As the sixth of nine children in Bangkok, Thailand, Payao “Mama” Suthipipat grew up in the kitchen. At 63, she’s still there, turning out up to 150 meals a day as the chef at Kitti’s Place, the family restaurant in Sausalito where she’s worked for two decades with her daughter, Lisa, and husband, Kitti.
How did you learn how to cook?
From my mom. My family was always in the kitchen. We never went out anywhere.
Where do you shop for ingredients?
I go to the produce market in San Francisco. (“It’s like Disneyland for Mom,” daughter Lisa says.) It’s fresh and nice. I know exactly where my meat comes from, where my vegetables come from. You know in this business I don’t make much money, but I love it. (“She loves the guys who work in the market,” Lisa adds with a laugh.)
Where do you come up with your new ideas?
I get inspired when I go hiking. I hike the hill above Rodeo Beach on Sundays, my day off. I go at 8 in the morning. It’s beautiful by the water. It clears my head.
Most restaurants don’t last 20 years. What’s your secret?
It’s in my blood. And I cook from my heart. I don’t like to take vacations. When I do, I feel so empty every day. When you’re working it’s like a challenge. Work is good.
Have you considered giving up?
Many times. But I told myself that giving up is not a challenge. You have to keep going. I’ve learned that if you try and you keep trying hard that someday you will have the things you wish for.
Advice for a would-be restaurateur?
You have to love your job with your whole heart. That is the most important thing. And don’t give up. Don’t give up.
Kitti’s Place Seafood Noodle Soup
Makes 2 servings
3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup whole cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh, whole Thai basil leaves*
2 teaspoons Thai tom yum chili paste*
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemongrass, grounded
2 teaspoons minced galangal* (a root similar to ginger used in Thai-based dishes)
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
Your choice of seafood — shrimp, scallops, calamari and/or fish
*these ingredients can be found in Asian specialty markets, such as Asian Market in San Rafael
Assemble broth first with all ingredients, except seafood. Bring to a boil, and immediately add seafood (if using fish, add it prior to other seafood.) Continue to cook for one minute longer. Ladle soup over steamed rice noodles and bean sprouts. (Optional) Top with fried garlic, chopped green onions and cilantro