Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee, who was the chef of classic Thai Town restaurant Jitlada died on October 19 at Kaiser Permanente hospital on Sunset Blvd. He had been privately fighting lung cancer for some time and succumbed last night. He was 66 years old.
Jitlada had always been considered one of the nicer places to have Thai cuisine in Los Angeles since the 1970s. When Sungkamee and his sister Jazz Singsanong acquired Jitlada in 2006, they began to introduce unique Southern Thai dishes to the giant menu. Initially the Southern Thai section was only in written out in Thai, but some adventurous food forum members eventually translated the specialties, which included items like the signature New Zealand mussels and crispy catfish salad. This was when Jitlada began to capture the attention of the local and even national food media.
Jonathan Gold, restaurant critic for LA Weekly at the time, enshrined the place as the “most exciting new Thai restaurant of the year”. Jitlada was a part of Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential restaurants and became a perennial resident of the Eater Essential 38. Coleman Andrews wrote a feature for Gourmet Magazine back in 2008, where he remarked on Sungkamee’s skill with spice:
Tui Sungkamee, in fact, has a skilled, even subtle hand as a chef (though that latter adjective may seem a strange one to use for such palate-startling food), and his control of heat is masterful: There are many varieties of fire in his food—targeted, diffuse, elusive, persistent—and not just one.
Before coming to America, Sungkamee had a restaurant in Pattaya Beach in Southern Thailand. According to a piece in FoodGPS, he would only use the best, freshest ingredients, paying maximum dollar for things like fresh lemongrass and mango, and often making curries late at night until 3 a.m. because he was convinced it tasted better than making them in the morning.
Sungakmee is survived by his daughter Sugar Sungkamee, sister Sarantip “Jazz” Singsanong, and more than ten brothers and sisters, plus many nieces and nephews.
- All Jitlada Coverage [ELA]