Chef Patricia Yeo, Oregon native did not originally intend to don a toque. After excelling in science at the Cambridge, England, boarding school she attended, she completed the requisite studies to obtain her doctorate in biochemistry, intent on spending her career inside a laboratory. It was during a break while obtaining her post-doctorate degree in 1989 that she took a cooking class at the New York Restaurant School. She was exhilarated by the challenges of combining ingredients and culinary techniques to produce immediate results – a definite incentive over the long and painstaking process required for results in a biochemistry lab. Inspired, she turned in her lab coat for chef whites
After over 25 years of culinary and restaurant operations in fine dining and Michelin starred restaurants in New York, San Francisco & Chicago, Patricia decided to dip her toes into the world of five star resorts and hotels. Prior to joining Avani+ in Luang Prabang, she spent a year as Executive Sous Chef at Six Senses, Zighy Bay in Oman.
What are your three most important ingredients?
I don’t think there are three ingredients per se; it is more three flavors. Acidity in Laos we depend a great deal on local limes but sometimes when I need something less sharp I use tamarind. There is a proliferation of tamarind trees on the property and in the town. The second ingredient is spice, a little bit of spicy, piquant flavor livens up a dish making it more interesting on the palate and the third flavour is bitterness or tannic flavors. It is a great counterpoint to basic salty, sweet and even umami. I use a lot of bitter greens like kales, cabbages and even herbs to get this flavour.
What was the first meal you ever cooked?and how was it?
My first meal was probably something as simple as cereal and milk, as I got older it was tradition that my dad and I made pancakes every Sunday. To this day I have a fondness for pancakes. I think the first two coursed meal I made was probably much later cooking for family. I don’t remember any complains so I guess it went well, or perhaps my family was just very kind.
What are the myths about female chef that you have heard?
I have not heard any myths about female chefs, like everyone in the world each chef has his or her own personality. In the past professional female chefs were rare partly because of the hours involved in the job. I emphasise the term professional female chefs because most home cooked meals are prepared by female chefs, our moms.
What is fusion food for you and how does your food different than others’?
I avoid using the term fusion. I incorporate local ingredients into classic (European or other) cooking techniques. As an example I make a classic marinara and meatball pasta where instead of using imported beef for the meatball I use buffalo which is local, plentiful and of very good quality. Another example is the use of gingers, galangal, local herbs & lime juice in a chimichurri instead of parsley, thyme, shallots and red wine vinegar. I don’t think of that as fusion, just using the best, freshest and most abundant ingredients on hand.
Do you incorporate any CSR in your cooking?
It all about recognizing and using local ingredients, working with local farmers and making the best out of what is available to you. Here in Luang Prabang we are blessed with a variety of fruits, vegetables and some unique products from the local farms, such as milk and cheese made from the local buffalos. We are entering in a partnership with the only Buffalo Dairy Farm in the country, and in using and promoting their products, we contribute to the local farmers, as well as providing a unique, quality product for our guests.
If we can avoid shipping in products from across the world we do, sticking to our motto of ‘modern cuisine, local produce’, highlighting not necessarily Loatian cuisine, but international cuisine made with Laotian ingredients.
What are your rules for the kitchen?
Taste everything, ask lots of questions, date and label all your mis en place, rotate your mis en place (FIFO, first in first out) and be organized. Make sure every dish you serve to the guest is one you’d be proud to serve to your mom or grandma. Also no unnecessary chatter especially during service. Pretty simple right?
What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?
If you have never worked in a professional kitchen please go work in one before you commit to going to culinary school. It is not a glamorous job, it is not like being a celebrity chef on TV. The hours are long, gruelling; you smell like onions and garlic all the time; when your friends from other careers are out to dinner and partying you are in the kitchen cooking their meals. I do everything I can to make sure young chefs are grounded in reality. It can take years before they end up as a chef in their own restaurant where they are cooking their own food. Most young chefs and cooks are executing someone else’s recipes and menu.
But the flip side of it is that it is very gratifying, it allows you opportunities to travel and live in other countries as I am doing now, it can be creative, it teaches you to be organized and disciplined, it teaches time management, all useful traits for basic living. It also affords you the chance to meet people from all walks of life, all nationalities and ethnicities. Great fun interspersed with lots of hard work.