This week’s guest on Chef’s Story is Soulayphet “Phet” Schwader. Born in a small village outside the capital of Laos, “Thangone,” Soulayphet Schwader immigrated to the U.S. at a very young age. Growing up in Kansas Soulayphet recalls a youth spent clamoring for a ham sandwich instead of the traditional Laotian lunch his mother would pack for him each day. It wasn’t until he secured his first job as a fry cook, while studying philosophy in college that the possibilities inherent in his colorful background began to materialize.
Schwader began his formal education at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. After completing an externship at Dundee Bistro in Oregon where he was exposed to the nuances of wine and its relationship to food, Schwader came to New York to work under Patricia Yeo at AZ. Working with an award-winning team that counted Chef Pino Maffeo among its members.
When Chef Maffeo headed to Boston to open Restaurant L, he recruited Schwader as his Chef de cuisine, who was able to explore his Asian roots, playing with flavors and ingredients that lent an eclectic distinction to the acclaimed restaurant. After two years under the tutelage of the famously creative Chef, Schwader returned to New York where he would take on his first post under his trusted mentor, Laurent Tourondel, at BLT Prime in New York. He was later tapped to open one of BLT’s first outposts outside of Manhattan in Washington, D.C. As Chef de cuisine for BLT Steak, Washington, D.C., Schwader’s influence was felt in the kitchen and on the menu, leading BLT Steak to become a popular destination for many Washingtonians.
Schwader returned to New York in 2008 to work with colleague and friend King Phojanakong to open their highly anticipated restaurant Umi Nom. While at Umi Nom, Soulayphet explored his Asian heritage, incorporating flavors associated with great memories of food and flavors his mother would bring to the table growing up in Kansas and using all the techniques and influences in his culinary career to make Umi Nom a wonderful dining destination in Brooklyn.