Suthiporn "Tui" Sungkamee, the beloved chef and co-owner of Los Angeles' renowned Jitlada restaurant, died Wednesday, October 18, after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 66.
"Sungkamee was one of the best, most consistent, least pretentious chefs in Los Angeles," said Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily Meal. "He was thoroughly grounded in traditional Thai cooking but also innovative, and capable of expressing real subtlety even in the fieriest dishes."
Sungkamee was born in Nakhon Si Thammarat province in southern Thailand, and he was the oldest of 12 siblings. He started cooking at the age of five, and learned from his parents and grandparents. He was a restaurateur in Thailand before moving to the U.S., and in 2006 he and his sister, Sarintip "Jazz" Singsanong, acquired Jitlada. The restaurant had been a familiar part of LA's Thai Town neighborhood since the 1970s, and after they reopened it restaurant critic Jonathan Gold called it "the most exciting new Thai restaurant of the year."
Sungkamee was known for his wildly spicy southern Thai specialties and a commitment to using the best and freshest ingredients at all times. Singsanong said her brother loved the restaurant more than himself, and she intends to keep it open.
"He said stand here for me and promise me without me the restaurant must go on," Singsanong said to the LA Times. "I promised him I would keep my promise and bring Jitlada to the world."
The restaurant announced on Facebook that it would be holding public memorial services so all the chef's friends and customers could come celebrate his legacy.
Sungkamee is survived by his wife, Aun Ratchanee Sungkamee, his daughters Pearl Sataranon and Jaratporn "Sugar" Sungkamee, and multiple brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Jitlada is one of The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America.