by Kathleen Pokrud, President of Hong Kong Ladies’ Group
Photos by Jenny Chan
It is easy to say, “Follow one’s childhood passion or dream”, but in reality how many manage to do so. Another question is “Will one recognise the opportunity to fulfil your passion when it comes?” Expat Life was so impressed to come across such a case and find inspirations for our readers. I sat down with Pradinan Arkarachinores, the beautiful and elegant owner of Khao, an awarded Michelin star Thai fine dining restaurant since 2020 for three consecutive years. A private banker turned entrepreneur, to learn about her journey in fulfilling the childhood fantasy into concrete achievements. A collector of over 2,000 cookbooks in both local and international cuisines since childhood must be passionate about cooking and food.
Khun Pradinan was raised in Chiang Mai; very typical Chinese households at the time, when children were not distracted, like the present time, with iPads or iPhones. She recalled her early years, “I grew up learning that we have to work to earn money. Yes, I was given pocket money to go to school. On weekends, when I helped my aunts with their business, I felt very proud to earn my own extra money, even for only 20 Baht. As a daughter, I was raised to be familiar with domestic chores such as helping my mother in the kitchen. My father would on the other hand, took me to all his business meetings, so I was exposed to adult business conversations at a young age.”
She moved to Bangkok at 15 and graduated with the Bachelor Degree in Economics from Thammasat University. Upon graduation, she started her wealth management career in the banking industry, in local and international environments. Aside from Thailand, the professional banker has posted 10 years in Hong Kong and periods in Singapore. Simultaneously, she continued to fulfill her passion for cooking. In 2009 – 2010, between career moves, she enrolled with Le Cordon Bleu Bangkok. Started with two basic courses in pastry and cuisines, she ended up spending 1 million Baht to complete the intermediate and superior courses.
Recalling how she fell in love with food or passion for cooking, Pradinan’s eyes lit up and shared, “I was fascinated with the appealing presentation of dishes from the cookery books I love to read. They were so pleasing and much different from our own home cooking. When relatives gathered during the festivities, we cooked together a lot among the extended family. For me, as a 7 year old, helping out in the kitchen was a game of fun. My toys were the ingredients that I played around with.”
I asked Pradinan if she had any particular fond memories in the kitchen. She pensively smiled, “I lied to my mother when I was very young, naughtily cut my finger when playing with the knife chopping bamboo shoots. I told her it was a thorn from the rose garden. Another memory I treasure every year was the New Year. My mother would make fruitcakes as gifts to our friends and neighbours. I loathed whipping the egg white but loved to cut the nuts. In the old days before all these readymade curry sauces in the supermarkets, we have to make our homemade sauces. One of the dish that I serve in my restaurant “Fried rice with black chilli paste” is one of my original family’s recipe which I modified”.
None of her family members have owned a restaurant; Pradinan is the first one in the family while holding a full time job as a banker. What inspired her to take the risk as an entrepreneur, and above all with restaurants, which rely on hardware, right venue and equipment; and software, meaning people. Restaurant operation is a labour intensive endeavour. She answered with conviction, “As a private banker, everything is about attention to details when I deal internally, externally with my clients or with people that work for my clients. In addition, there are many issues that are time sensitive. I do not see any difference in applying this knowledge to the restaurant business. I can say that I love doing both in parallel.” She paused briefly and elaborated further, “It is like I have two channels of radio frequencies working separately on my professional career and my commitment to Khao. The two businesses are in different compartments, and I can direct my energies into both without interfering one another. I do not see either one is tougher than the other because I can disjoint to handle their own details.”
Pradinan took over Khao from the previous owner in 2018. She strongly believes that success does not depend on luck, but by genuine hard work, and recognising the right opportunity that comes along. “I chose to invest in an existing business because at that time, I was working full time in Hongkong. It would be a wiser move to take over a working operation rather starting out from scratch. In 2019, The Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded Khao as “good quality, good value restaurants”. The following year, we earned our first Michelin star as the ultimate hallmark of culinary excellence, which we have held until now in 2022. The obstacles that I encountered along the way seem countless at times. I believe that my strong team has helped me through the years. I also had to contribute tremendously effort in motivating them, and earning my respect. At the beginning, many were skeptical that I only wanted to own a restaurant in name only.”
Disclosing on the factors that have contributed to the success of Khao, “I have a crystal vision what I wish Khao to be. It is to be a Thai restaurant where Thais go. A good example is it is the place that overseas Thais returning home, and enjoys all the dishes that they miss while abroad, or real Thai recipes that they grow up with. My focus is on age old or lost recipes that we can find in Thai literature. I understand that some restaurants like fusion experimental tasting menu for photogenic instagram purposes. This is not what we pursue in Khao. Our chefs team is very motivated to learn and has clear direction on what we want to serve. We strive to present the best version of the original recipe to show the delicacy of our Thai cooking culture. Some dishes do not have recipe available but they are written in old Thai books. Shrimp paste soup is one of the dishes that I offer in Market Café by Khao at the Hyatt Regency Sukhumvit. We have to reconstruct this recipe with a twist in the ingredients while maintaining the quality.”
What next for Khao? The original branch of Khao is located on Soi Ekamai, which focuses on original Thai recipes. Pradinan was heavily involved designing the menu for the second branch at Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit on Soi 13, which goes by the name The Market Café by Khao. The restaurant turned into a more fashionable venue and fine dining concept, serving dinner with age old recipes. She admitted that some of the dishes were adjusted 10 times to grasp the taste, and many more amendments to reach the ultimate version agreed by the team. It took six months to finalise the menu. Soon to be opened is her third branch in Central World on the 7th floor. She excitedly reviewed, “The new concept is “Khao’s favourite dish”. I want the new branch to embrace both Thai and international food. Many of us in Thailand grow up with popular Western menus like French fries, baked clams in butter or even spaghetti bolognaise. This will be the venue for families to enjoy where parents order the dishes they grow up with and share with their children. Youngsters can hang around and enjoy group feasting. Foreign visitors will find real Thai dishes where Thais go. In the pipeline, Khao is expanding to offer readymade sauces to be available in the retail market. With my years spent in Hong Kong and Singapore, it is my next dream to bring the concept of Khao to these two vibrant cities.”
As our time drew to a close, I was impressed with how Khun Pradinan was so very composed and cheerful throughout the interview. Her boundless confidence in dealing with business obstacles as she puts it, “I do not worry, nor feel stress or complain being tired. I would like to share with the Expat Life in Thailand readers, especially women entrepreneurs are to be on the alert, when opportunity comes knocking at your door, seize the moment and take the plunge.
I did when I acquired Khao and have not regret any minute of it!”