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 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.
What’s your job? I shop for the food, I cook and I prepare a menu of specials every week.
Where do you shop? 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.
Why? I like the people. (“She loves the guys who work in the market,” Lisa adds with a laugh.)
What are your hours? I get here around 10 and I’m done by 9:30.
Almost 12 hours? That’s OK. If you love something that you do you’re not going to be tired.
Every day? Six days a week. 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.
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.
Do you go alone? No, with my husband.
Not Lisa? No, she does yoga. We need a break from each other. I love working with her, but sometimes a mother and a daughter — you understand?
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.
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.
You’re kind of tough, aren’t you? Absolutely.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Chef’s Life”.