by Jia Ying Chia
Leaving her home town at 18 to study at the Cordon Bleu Institute in Sydney, Australia; Kuchinite Michelle Goh was recently hailed as one of Asia’s best pastry chefs by the prestigious Michelin culinary guide. She helms MIA with her husbands Pongcharn “Top” Russell, a contemporary fine-dining restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand and is set to make her mark on the competitive global culinary platform.
Q: MIA has dedicated vegan and vegetarian menus that are equally as thoughtful as the meat-friendly option. What’s the reason behind making a full (and often changing) menu for non-meat eaters?
A: To be honest, when I’m eating at home, I eat almost like a vegetarian. Not for any health or religious reasons but mostly because I just love and enjoy vegetables. I also have a few vegan friends and they’re always having difficulty finding places to eat with their non-veggie friends. We actually started to make a vegan/vegetarian menu because of the Jay Festival a few years ago. The Kin Jay Festival is a nationwide vegetarian celebration that lasts for a month where many non veggie places will offer veggie options. Since I love eating vegetarian food, Top and I decided to challenge ourselves and create a 7-course vegetarian/vegan tasting menu specially for this festival. The feedback from diners was so great, we decided to do it all year round.
Q: Were there any unexpected challenges in running your own restaurant with Mr. Russell?
A: Working with Top was actually not all that difficult. We’d already worked together before when we first met in Singapore and again while we were doing pop ups before opening MIA. I think one of the reasons things came easy was due to our compatibility. Top is more of the creative type and I’m more organised, making a good partnership for running a restaurant. We also have similar backgrounds in terms of our training and are both Asian chefs who started our careers doing classical French cooking, making it easy for us to relate to each other and having similar taste preferences.
Q: You’ve described Sarawak Laksa as being very close to your heart, and even opened a Laksa takeaway during the peak of COVID in 2021. What is it about this dish that you love?
A: I think that for me, Sarawak Laksa represents the taste of my childhood. It is a dish that is almost only ever available back home and reminds me of Kuching. I find that the taste itself is so unique and unlike any other noodle soup dish and that’s why I love it so much. I think Sarawak Laksa in Kuching in general, is pretty good no matter where you try it but always go for the kopitiams!
Q: Are there any restaurants from the many locations you’ve lived at, that changed your perspective on creativity in the kitchen?
A: Rockpool 1989 (now closed), is a place that is very close to my heart. It was the first fine dining restaurant I ever worked in and also one of the first fine dining establishments I’ve ever dined in. When eating there, I was awed by not the food but the level of service and it really made me want to work in fine dining. As of right now, I have no plans to open anything in Kuching.