Chef Roong – award-winning chef and owner of Lek Lek Ban and Finesse Catering Group – was born in the kitchen. She was delivered on the kitchen floor of her family's small hut (Lek Lek Ban) in North-East Thailand. It was a humble and wholly fitting start for someone destined for culinary success.
Roong's apprenticeship was like none other. She helped her mother and grandmother in the kitchen from a young age, learning to cook sticky rice before most children learn to talk.
Preparing a meal was a family affair, with jobs divvied out between Roong and her six siblings. Someone had to catch the fish, gather the fruit and vegetables, grind the spices and aromatics into a paste and cook the rice over ash and coals. It was simple, nourishing and deeply soulful fare.
At four years old, Roong and her family moved to the Cambodian border, where she grew up working in farming. She fondly remembers picking kaffir limes and chillies in the mountains with her grandmother and selling them on the street in their small village. Gathering, preparing and sharing food was simply a way of life.
At the age of 17, Roong moved to the bustling city of Chiang Mai and landed a job as a kitchenhand at a five-star hotel. Here in the vibrant, sizzling city centre, surrounded by street food and heaving night markets, Roong studied and honed her craft. Her natural talent for creating flavours was evident, and she quickly rose through the ranks at the hotel. Before long, she was made head chef and was spearheading a large team of highly skilled professionals.
Roong's meteoric rise was no accident; it was due to an innate connection to food, a deep understanding of flavours and a work ethic that was second to none. Her knife skills had garnered her legendary status, having mastered the ancient art of Kae Sa Luk. Armed with a sharp-tipped paring knife, Roong carves fruit and vegetables into intricate and elaborate artworks that are (almost) too beautiful to eat.
Roong's technical prowess, coupled with her vivacious personality, saw her carve her own path in what was a largely male-dominated industry. Achieving such early recognition was no small feat for a woman significantly younger than her peers, whose playful nature and youthful appearance made her look and seem younger still.
Since those early days, Roong has been unstoppable in the kitchen. Her resume includes stints at prestigious fine-dining restaurants and esteemed cooking schools in Australia and Thailand, including a long-term residency at The International Cooking School of Chiang Mai. For years, Roong ran masterclasses in authentic Thai cooking, sharing her knowledge and teaching some of the industry's best.
Whilst many chefs prefer to stay hidden away in the kitchen, Roong is positively effervescent and entirely comfortable in the limelight. Her popular masterclasses were equal parts education and entertainment, as Roong delivered her time-honoured techniques with a wicked dose of tongue-in-cheek humour. It seems only natural that someone so adept at creating flavour has a vibrant and colourful personality to match.
For Roong, cooking and creating out-of-this-world food is simply second nature, "I've been cooking my whole life. I cook by hand and by memory." she explains. It's a deeply intuitive process that has been refined over 30+ years in the business.
Since moving to the Mornington Peninsula 14 years ago, Roong has brought her signature flair to the menus of several well-known establishments. Finesse Catering Group launched in 2016 and was Roong's first lovechild with her husband and fellow chef, Brad.
With a sexy, sophisticated menu inspired by the culinary arts, Finesse Catering Group offers seasonal feasts for weddings, celebrations and large-scale corporate events. From casual canapes to formal fine dining, the team provide exceptional service and unforgettable culinary experiences.
Chef Roong's latest project, Lek Lek Ban, is what happens when creativity and passion bubble over. It’s an all Thai offering that is also all flavour. The mouth-watering range of small batch, ready-to-serve sauces – and the accompanying street food catering menu – reflect Roong's insatiable desire to have fun and share her love of food. "I can't help myself!" she laughs, "I wake up, and I have to cook. Whether I'm hungry or not, I need to cook!". When your passion and desire burn as bright as Chef Roong, no one is going to stop you.