Sommay Jaijong, known to everyone as May (sometimes pronounced Mai), dreamed of becoming a restaurant owner since the early age of 12. May is recognized in Thailand as a successful entrepreneur, owning vegetarian restaurants and cooking schools in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Her business name, May Kaidee, was christened after the meaning of her first name, indicating aptitude in business and marketing, and essentially translating to, “May sells well.” Indeed, as May continues to establish herself professionally, she invites relatives and friends from her hometown to work in her Bangkok restaurants, extending, as her aunt did, the opportunity to acquire a more comfortable or alternative life. Internationally, May has instructed Thai restaurant staff members throughout Europe and Asia and is frequently requested to lecture at retreats, health seminars, and annual food events worldwide. In Russia, May has tutored master chefs from five-star hotels in St. Petersburg, and is renowned in Moscow for her sensational Thai vegetarian cooking film, translated into Russian. Additionally, May has spent time in England sharing her culinary secrets and in Japan instructing health retreats on organic farms. By 2002, May Kaidee’s was chosen as a top restaurant by “Metro Magazine” in Sweden and nominated for the International Award for Tourist Hotel and Catering Industry by the Spanish magazine, “Mercado Mundial”. What’s more, May has made television appearances in Thailand, Germany, France, and China, and was personally selected by His Royal Highness Prince Phillippe of Belgium as the best chef in Thailand.
At present, May’s ambition is to share with the world a bit of Thai culture, as well as her heavenly, health-restoring recipes for revitalizing mind, body, and spirit. While not looking after customers in Thailand, May spends time in New York City promoting her signature recipes. https://www.maykaidee.com/
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody. I’m back, and I’m swallowing this, I was eating some amazing food just now and needed to get it down. Oh, amazing stuff! This is really fun! I have with me here in the studio May Kaidee, and she is an incredible, successful entrepreneur. She owns vegan restaurants, and cooking schools in Bangkok and Chiang Mai?
May Kaidee: Chiang Mai.
Caryn Hartglass: Chiang Mai. And we’re lucky to have her here in New York right now, and she’s going to tell us a lot of why she’s here and what she’s doing, and it has to do with delicious Thai food, that’s vegan! Welcome to It’s All About Food! So, say hello in the microphone so we can hear you.
May Kaidee: Okay, hello everyone. My name May Kaidee.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Good. Let me bring that up a little. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Great. So, you’re here in New York right now.
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And you’ve had a few months, you’ve been doing some interesting projects, so why don’t you let us know what you’ve been doing in New York.
May Kaidee: Yeah, now I been here about 8 months already.
Caryn Hartglass: 8 months!
May Kaidee: Yes. In the 8 months I wanted to start some business. Started do the May Kaidee Cooking Class, and May Kaidee there Kickstarter, the kick to cooking for vegetarian, vegan food, for people at home.
Caryn Hartglass: So have you been giving cooking classes while you’ve been here in New York.
May Kaidee: Yes, I have a lots of class. Right now about 15 even already.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Okay.
May Kaidee: Yeah New York and New Jersey but next trip we go to upstate.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay now a lot of people love Thai food but one of the frustrating things for a vegetarian or a vegan is we discovered there are things in the sauce that aren’t for vegetarians. So what do you do to make?
May Kaidee: For the sauce for the vegetarian food?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah!
May Kaidee: I use only vegan food, yeah. And for the sauce I use very special cooking, chili paste, you know because we use chili paste for the tom yum soup, we use the chili paste for dipping, you can use chili paste for the stir fry, you can use chili paste for the curry.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s spicy!
May Kaidee: Yeah, spicy for make the flavor, you know that’s why they’re very special today. You know I bring you try, how is spicy?
Caryn Hartglass: I love it! I’ve tried the spring rolls?
May Kaidee: Yes, spring rolls and with peanut sauce.
Caryn Hartglass: With a sweet, spicy peanut sauce! It’s so good, peanut sauce!
May Kaidee: Yes, peanut sauce.
Caryn Hartglass: And you… it’s got a lot of cilantro in it too, which I love.
May Kaidee: Yes, cilantro and ginger.
Caryn Hartglass: And ginger, yeah it’s just the simplest of foods and it’s delicious, and then you’ve… you jarred a particular sauce. Can I?
May Kaidee: One kind of chili paste, chili, and herb, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaf with onion, garlic, carrot, you know.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, it’s got, I’m going to read it, it has daikon, jicama, carrot, dried chili, brown sugar, tamarind, vinegar, vegetable oil, salt, soy sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal.
May Kaidee: Yes, we use in the herbs in there.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, beautiful and it’s delicious! Wow! So we can buy this here in New York?
May Kaidee: Yes, coming soon, also in New York.
Caryn Hartglass: Not yet?
May Kaidee: Not yet, but we plan because we have the first set up restaurant right now, May Kaidee restaurant coming soon, but October, on October and then we starting this also.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. This is exciting. So you need to look for May Kaidee’s Tom Yum Chili Paste. Vegan! Beautiful. Okay. When you do your cooking classes, what do you make?
May Kaidee: Oh in my class, I cooking tom yum, the favorite people like.
Caryn Hartglass: The soup.
May Kaidee: The Tom Yum soup, Massaman curry, Pad Thai, and Black Sticky Rice with Mango. Some people want to do special dishes; they can request what they like also. Sometimes they like the special dish like the northeast Thailand, and Bangkok, really different, or northeast. Sometimes they like more spicy, I just to bring more chili, and they can cook many stuff.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, let’s go in the past, back in history when you were young, I always love to hear stories about how people became vegetarian and why they did, so can you tell us a little bit about you?
May Kaidee: Yes. For me I done this for vegetarian before because I stay in the small village, small village, like the farm, in the farm and we cooking a lots of local food like that frog, and fish in the farm you can find everything in the farm we cooking. And also one thing happened with me, because my auntie, she live in Bangkok, she have the husband falling from foreign, from French, then they had a restaurant, vegan restaurant. That why I go to the beginning with her, because she need me help.
Caryn Hartglass: I see.
May Kaidee: That’s why the first time why I go to Bangkok and starting help the restaurant with my aunt. That’s the vegetarian food, only foreigner, I survive from 1988. That’s why they make my life change, not stay in the village, not work in farm, but she invite me to help in the kitchen.
Caryn Hartglass: You were lucky to have your aunt.
May Kaidee: Yes, that’s why I beginning from help cooking, chop vegetable, but not vegetarian. I cook but I eat meat. That’s why I be eating someday I make my body really problem because when you eat a lots of meat and food not digest, I had the weight problem like that 65 kilo.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, you were heavy.
May Kaidee: Yeah I had the problem from that, and also…
Caryn Hartglass: Well let me tell you right now, May Kaidee is beautiful, she has a beautiful dress on, and decorated with all kinds of lovely jewelry! It’s just so exciting to see it! I’m going to post it on my website later, but, just absolutely stunning. Did you come here in a taxi or did you…
May Kaidee: No just walking, I say at 34 street, really close here.
Caryn Hartglass: Did you walk? And were people admiring you as you walked?
May Kaidee: Yeah even take photos, yes is walking like that.
Caryn Hartglass: And we’re here in New York City and there’s all kinds of people here and all kinds of dress, and most people leave everybody alone, but you’re just too striking for people not to pay attention too! That’s lovely. So does this clothing signify anything in particular?
May Kaidee: Yes, it’s about the Thai culture. They have many Thai people, when you wear like that it means you do ceremony something. You do at the wedding sometime not like the jewelry but like the Thai sometimes they use for ceremony for Thai dance for the King bird there, or Queen Bird there in the school, they have some show for school, teaching Thai dance, this should… that’s why that costume for show.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s lovely…
May Kaidee: Yeah, but I do that for walking and marketing…
Caryn Hartglass: Now what do Thai people think of vegetarians?
May Kaidee: Before people see vegetarian as, oh is how you get the power from vegetarian, how people see how, oh how you have energy for that. Sometimes I worry about that. But after then, when I become vegetarian for 25 year, I have been for 25 year now, then they can tell my body don’t worry about the protein, don’t worry about the meat. Sometime I eat just the tofu, soy milk, or like the product like the nut, or brown rice. My body doesn’t have problem with that, that why my body decides to eat more vegetable only vegetarian right now.
Caryn Hartglass: This program is always open to calls, and if anybody has any questions about Thai cuisine you can call in at 1-888-874-4888, 1-888-874-4888. Yeah, I love Thai food, but I never know where I can get it, where I can be sure it’s vegan, because of the fish sauce, and the oyster sauce.
May Kaidee: Yes. And right now vegetarian really popular everywhere, and when foreigner go to Thailand they bring vegetarian food or vegan and raw food to Thailand.
Caryn Hartglass: Raw foods too?
May Kaidee: Yeah raw food also, and now Thai people really full of what people eating health, they know about the health, the fasting, and they know about the detox, that why the Thai people eating more healthy right now. And then people that like the vegetarian, many vegetarian fish sauce right now like the soy sauce, we don’t use fish sauce, but we use light soy sauce or dark soy sauce. We don’t use oyster sauce, but we use mushroom sauce.
Caryn Hartglass: Mushroom sauce is better than oyster sauce.
May Kaidee: Yeah. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s so good for you.
May Kaidee: Yeah. Sometimes you can use the miso, you know miso, like the bean paste.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh miso, sure.
May Kaidee: The same in Thailand, they have Thai miso also.
Caryn Hartglass: Mm. Thai miso!
May Kaidee: Yeah, Thai miso.
Caryn Hartglass: Where can I find that?
May Kaidee: Yeah in Asian market, they have in the Thai market, they have Thai…
Caryn Hartglass: Is it called Thai miso or…
May Kaidee: It’s miso but made from Thailand, you know Thailand miso is for stir fry, but for the Japanese it’s more sticky in the back, but Thailand miso is made from beans, the same.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, from the beans. Amazing beans! We can do everything with beans right? Okay now you have been everywhere. You’ve taught cooking in how many countries?
May Kaidee: I have been cooking in Japan, England, Moscow, and also the… in the England two times, Moscow two time, and Japan two time also.
Caryn Hartglass: Did they like your food in Moscow?
May Kaidee: Yes. I surprised.
Caryn Hartglass: Is there a lot of Thai food there?
May Kaidee: I saw some restaurant Thai, many people to go there. But my cooking there show is vegan people because the community people there is the Hindu. The Hindu temple. They do the ceremony for Krishna.
Caryn Hartglass: I went to a vegetarian conference once in Brazil. And I did some cooking demos of some very simple food, and before I got there I sent the list to the conference people for the food that I needed, without thinking I couldn’t… They didn’t have all the same ingredients.
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: So when you’re in Russia, can you find all the food that you need?
May Kaidee: Yeah, I can find some but not it all.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
May Kaidee: But I can change something.
Caryn Hartglass: That shows your talent when you can make it with something new.
May Kaidee: Yes! I know, like the green curry, sometimes you use the basil, right, but there they use lots of dill, and I used dill for the green curry. I use dill for red curry.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. That could be good!
May Kaidee: Yes! It is really good. Also…
Caryn Hartglass: They like that. They like their dill there, in Russia.
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: I live in Queens in New York. There’s a big Russian community, and in the stores near the Russian area the dill that they sell it’s always cheaper and just a lot of it, because they like dill. Dill instead of basil, okay. Why not? And what about in… You’ve been to France?
May Kaidee: France, no.
Caryn Hartglass: No.
May Kaidee: I’ve never been France.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, they need you. They’re the cuisine capital of the world, right.
May Kaidee: I like to travel in…
Caryn Hartglass: They need you; I’ll tell you why. Maybe it’s different, but I lived in the South of France in the early 90s. I never found a good Thai restaurant. They need you.
May Kaidee: I see. Some Thai restaurant, not Thai people cooking.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
May Kaidee: Some Thai restaurant they debut the business then they sell for some foreigner, sometimes Chinese, and some people like that.
Caryn Hartglass: I went to a Thai restaurant last week in the Broadway district, Times Square. It was terrible.
May Kaidee: Wow! Yeah maybe but many people say Thai cooking, but not Thai people cooking sometimes like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. Yes.
May Kaidee: Thai food, but not Thai people cooking. One restaurant, some here also. Everything Thai. Have the Buddha, the monk, have everything, decorated like the Thai. When I go there I say hello, to say “sawadikap”, nobody know me.
Caryn Hartglass: I have a question. There was a nice Thai restaurant in my neighborhood in Forest Hills, it’s not there anymore, and they had these… goddesses. I think they were hanging from the ceiling these… They were wooden women with wings. Someone told me they were goddesses of the rice paddies. Do you know what I’m talking about? I see them in Thai restaurants sometimes. Is that an American creation, or is that really Thai?
May Kaidee: No, I think that just for some marketing, right.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
May Kaidee: Yes, I think like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. That’s, that’s good to know. That’s funny. Okay. You’ve had one Kickstarter. And now you have another one.
May Kaidee: Another coming also.
Caryn Hartglass: And what is it for?
May Kaidee: The Kickstarter for next?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
May Kaidee: Yeah, or right now we do the tour cooking. Next we go to upstate.
Caryn Hartglass: Upstate New York.
May Kaidee: Yeah, and then go to the Boston.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, where in upstate New York?
May Kaidee: In the Ithaca.
Caryn Hartglass: Ithaca! When are you going to be there?
May Kaidee: Next week!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
May Kaidee: Coming, coming next week.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Very good. I might be in Ithaca next week.
May Kaidee: Yes, Ithaca.
Caryn Hartglass: Are you teaching at the university, or at a…
May Kaidee: At the Cornell university, you know that?
Caryn Hartglass: Is it in Ithaca?
May Kaidee: Very close to Ithaca, not in the Ithaca. We do two places, Ithaca and the Cornell university.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, okay, so you’re doing a Kickstarter to raise money to do what?
May Kaidee: For the money we want to debut a restaurant right now we starting restaurant in the… buy some of the ingredients, some of the produce, right now. We’ve started tenting, construction.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have a restaurant?
May Kaidee: Yeah, right now we have already.
Caryn Hartglass: And where is it?
May Kaidee: On 28th street, east side.
Caryn Hartglass: But it’s not open.
May Kaidee: Coming on October.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, so we’re going to have a real vegan Thai restaurant in October.
May Kaidee: Yeah!
Caryn Hartglass: Are you going to stay in New York?
May Kaidee: Yes, because I want to debut the May Kaidee in New York, that’s why I’m going to stay for a long time.
Caryn Hartglass: Beautiful. Okay, this is exciting! So it should open in October, and what’s on the menu?
May Kaidee: In the menu like the local food, local it means from Thailand. We have the Thai, Bangkok, South, North East, and North Thailand; you know you can see Thai food very different about North Thailand, different South Thailand, and Bangkok.
Caryn Hartglass: How is it… I don’t know, I only know Pad Thai so?
May Kaidee: Yes, the culture very different also, Thai, North East and… my village like the North East Thailand, the food.
Caryn Hartglass: Is it spicier or richer?
May Kaidee: Yes, it’s spicy.
Caryn Hartglass: In the North?
May Kaidee: Yeah, North East, spicy, also but not a lots of coconut.
Caryn Hartglass: Not a lot of coconut.
May Kaidee: Really light. Similar like that, but dipping with the spicy…
Caryn Hartglass: Spicy, but not heavy.
May Kaidee: Yes. But like the Chiang Mai, they have the soups, special like the Khao Soi like the North Thailand, and like the Burma they have the mix North and Burma a little bit the food, that’s why they’re very different. And South Bangkok is like they are a little bit like the Muslim and Thai South people, that why they mix together. And Bangkok is the original style, Pad Thai, tom yum, Massaman, and also the curry, or stir fry, or salads, crispy salads, mangoes, spicy, or lemongrass salad, something like that.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm. Sounds good. Are you getting hungry everybody? I have some great… I’m going to try one bite, because it was so good. I’ve got a spring roll here and it’s got tofu in it, and carrots, and is that cabbage or lettuce in there?
May Kaidee: Yeah, lettuce.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, lettuce, and…
May Kaidee: Ginger, and cashew nut also.
Caryn Hartglass: What is this?
May Kaidee: Just ginger.
Caryn Hartglass: Ginger, oh nice strips of ginger in a sweet, peanut sauce. I’m taking a bite. Hold on a minute. Crunch. Okay, I love the ginger. Mmm. That’s so good. Oh. There’s a cashew in there!
May Kaidee: Yes, cashew nut.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s so exciting, I’m crunching on something! I never had a cashew in my spring roll.
May Kaidee: Sometimes you can use the avocado, it’s very good, if you eat lots of avocado you can sometimes I don’t use cashew nut, but I use avocado, more creamy together.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh this is really good. Mmm. Okay. What else do you want to tell me about? You have a few restaurants in Thailand?
May Kaidee: Yeah, we have three in Bangkok, one in Chiang Mai, and one in Cambodia also opening already.
Caryn Hartglass: And, do you find a lot of vegetarians go there, or everybody goes there?
May Kaidee: Go to Thailand?
Caryn Hartglass: To your restaurants.
May Kaidee: In Thailand, in Bangkok?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
May Kaidee: We have the restaurant from 1988 almost 20 years, or 25 years or 28.
Caryn Hartglass: Has it always been vegetarian?
May Kaidee: Yes. And also the one thing. Not Thai people go to my restaurants, only foreigner. Yes! International people when they see vegetarian people surprised, only foreigner go to my restaurants, that’s why I beginning myself on the street, like the food the street food. I have the small cart and the restaurant only two table. When the raining you cannot eat you just stop. When the rain goes you can come and no name restaurant before but many people. I surprised after the Lonely Plant visit I the, oh your restaurant really popular, you have the May Kaidee in Lonely Planet, in the city guide, you know in the Germany and French guides. And after then, TV from France, Germany, England, and TV from Israel coming to talk about me. How you come vegetarian? Why only foreigner come to your business? I show Thai culture, I show the cooking and dancing. That’s why I like the dress like that, I show Thai cooking…
Caryn Hartglass: So you like foreigners.
May Kaidee: Yes. Of course.
Caryn Hartglass: Cause we like your food! That’s funny. I’ve… you know how I found out about you. From John Phillips.
May Kaidee: John. Oh that’s my student cooking class in Thailand about two years ago or four years ago he been.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, he came to your class in Thailand.
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. He’s… I met him when he was a teenager, and he was a young vegan and a great activist and a great volunteer, and he’s continued to be a good friend and colleague and knows all the best places to eat, so he found you and then knew, I guess found out, that you were here in New York.
May Kaidee: Also, one thing in New York, one thing I do, I do the cooking Saturday night, no Friday night, I do the cooking party, cooking party, and then I invite people into my apartment. I just do the cooking too like the business card on street people want to join my dinner cooking, that’s why I do that. People see, oh May Kaidee in New York, do something, then people booking. Sometimes I have twenty people in one day, only in 7 o’clock until 9, that’s it. It’s good every week, twenty people, fifteen people, ten people, like that is good. Some meeting people.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So I’m wondering about… I know what I can get in a restaurant, but in Thailand, a fine meal, do you serve special…. Excuse me! I had a bite and now I’m belching, is that impolite? Are there special beverages, alcohol, wines?
May Kaidee: In Thailand?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
May Kaidee: For my restaurant?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, in the culture and the restaurant.
May Kaidee: Yeah in Thailand, they have wine, not so popular, but for local people they drink more like whiskey or something like that. They have also you know the drink but the wine not so popular for them.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so whiskey’s popular, wine not so popular.
May Kaidee: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Often we can get a Thai iced tea that has milk in it.
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you make a vegan version?
May Kaidee: Yes! I want to do that one, Thai, or Thai tea, or Thai iced coffee, normally I do in my restaurant, I making Thai tea with almond milk and coconut milk. No milk. And also with Thai coffee also, you can add coconut milk or you can add almond milk, it’s very good.
Caryn Hartglass: It is very good!
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh. Yes! Okay so where can people find you right now. So you have a website, does it talk about the New York events on your website?
May Kaidee: Yeah, where May Kaidee grand opening, Facebook, Instagram, on the Twitter, and also May Kaidee website.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I’m going to put links on my website for your Facebook page, and your website. This is really very exciting for people to find out about. You don’t have a specific date yet for your grand opening?
May Kaidee: Yeah, grand opening we plan onto October.
Caryn Hartglass: The 2nd?
May Kaidee: 2nd October we plan if everything not problem. We want to do that, because with paper work not easy sometimes.
Caryn Hartglass: Has the health department visited you yet?
May Kaidee: Yeah that’s why….
Caryn Hartglass: The New York Health Department…
May Kaidee: Yeah that’s why you say every time starting now for big cleaning.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, big cleaning.
May Kaidee: That’s why I say, we say 2nd October, if can open. Everyone want to go my party, I invite monk to do ceremony for the grand opening for the Buddhists.
Caryn Hartglass: So we’ll see some nice costumes at the ceremony.
May Kaidee: Yeah, yeah, ceremony, and plate for the gods of the land, and also the party I do rent the buffet, people can enjoy the food, starting like the noon, like 12 o’clock afternoon after monk finish lunch, until 8 o’clock. I want to do that all day, party, and buffet, and everyone can eat, and just people donation, just donation for that.
Caryn Hartglass: I see, that’s beautiful! All life should be like that, where you eat, and you pay what you want to pay.
May Kaidee: Yeah, I want people to taste the food also in that time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, beautiful. Okay so the October 2nd hopefully you’re going to open. What’s the address?
May Kaidee: Address, 126 28 East…
Caryn Hartglass: 126 East 28th Street.
May Kaidee: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
May Kaidee: I will send an email again to you.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, good. I’m so delighted to meet you! This has been such a treat, and I really love that you took the time and the effort to wear this beautiful costume. We’ve gotten really sloppy here in the United States, nobody cares what they put on anymore, so this is really exciting for me and this food I can’t wait to dig into in. Okay, so May Kaidee, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food.
May Kaidee: You’re welcome.
Caryn Hartglass: And don’t go anywhere because I want to nibble a little bit more on this, but I just have a few more things to say to my listeners before I close out the program. Once again I want to remind you as I said at the top of the show about the Forks over Knives and Engine 2 program, the different weekenders and the weeklong emersion. This is really a great opportunity, especially if you’re new to the food, or if you’re not it’s a great time to really meet some of these wonderful speakers, and educators, and eat great food, and have a great time! And meet people just like you! So www.responsibleeatingandliving.com is my website. Go there and find the link to the Forks 2 Events. Excellent. Okay, thank you and I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’ve been listening too It’s All About Food, thank you for joining me and have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Zia Kara, 9/18/2016