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A quirky world of sweet treats

Penny Jirayuwatana. Dekwat1975

While her scones are the talk of the town, she is also renowned for her creative pastries. Chef Penny Jirayuwatana, better known as Penny the Chef, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and has more than 20 years' experience in kitchens in America and Europe, including at the award-winning Dominique Ansel Bakery London, the Mandarin Oriental London and Mercer Kitchen by Jean George Vongerichten in New York. Penny has also had the opportunity to cook for Prince Charles at Windsor Palace. Born and raised in Bangkok, she has been back home for the last four years and works as a consultant for bakeries, food factories and airlines, apart from making appearances as a guest judge on Masterchef Thailand and Iron Chef Thailand. Penny has most recently partnered with 137 Pillars Hotel and Suites Bangkok to curate a special Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea set.

Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea Party created by Penny the Chef. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok

Why did you decide to become a pastry chef?

I moved to London to do my MBA. While there I started cooking and developed a love for it. It started getting a bit serious and was a good stress reliever for me. I would cook or bake at 2am for a respite from the university books.

I started researched culinary schools, found the CIA, attended open house there and as soon as I set my eyes on it, I had goose bumps.

I told my brother that I wanted to be a chef and he was a bit sceptical about the idea. I then told my mother who was also sceptical and hoped it wasn't a brief interest for me.

When I finished my masters, I moved to New York and enrolled in the CIA, where I learnt to cook and bake. I worked in various restaurant kitchens and sometimes when there was no pastry chef so I was pushed in that direction. When you're small, it is beneficial to doing pastry because there are a lot of dainty things. So with my small hands, pastry seemed the natural choice.

I then moved from New York to London because I wanted a proper European experience.

How would you describe your desserts?

Fun and creative. I am kind of a bit of mix and match now, doing Thai-style desserts and Western.

Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea Party created by Penny the Chef. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok

You're known for your scones, what's the secret to baking the perfect scone? Which scone is your favourite?

Handmade scones are the best. I sell more than 1,000 a day and each and every one is made by me. The scones can be pre-ordered via Facebook and Instagram. The waitlist for the scones are around a month because only I make them. I have strong arms [laughs]. My favourite scone is the raisin.

Why go down the consultancy path and not set up your own dessert cafe?

Bangkok is home and people here love sweets. Maybe because we are a hot country and people need the sugar for a pickup. Sugar is everywhere. But I am actually working on opening a dessert café of my own.

Where can one find your desserts?

I have clients in Chiang Mai, a bakery, where my black sticky rice croissants are sold. It's got a particular aroma and a different colour -- a bit brown -- because of the rice. People mostly place orders via my social media accounts.

Where did the idea to create a Mad Hatter's afternoon tea come from?

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland is a famous novel and one of my favourites. I want to bring it back because there are a lot of fun details that are more for adults than kids. I want people to think about Alice In Wonderland like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.

The carrot cake, that's part of the afternoon tea set, is my favourite on the menu. Starting from the carrot tops microgreens, where you can taste the carrots without actually eating a carrot. The carrot cake is one of my signature desserts, apart from my scones. 

The Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea set is available from 1-5.30pm on St Valentine's Day on Feb 14, and the following weekends of Feb 16-17, Feb 23-25 and March 2-3. It is priced at B950++ per person or B1,550++ per person with a demi bottle of Moët Rosé Impérial Champagne. Call 02-079-7000.

Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea Party created by Penny the Chef. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok

Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea Party created by Penny the Chef. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok

Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea Party created by Penny the Chef. 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok

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