Meet Rose Chalalai Singh, the Paris Art World’s Favorite Chef
The Thai owner of Ya Lamaï understands that the way to the heart of the art world is through its stomach, especially in Paris.
Saucy Lady There was nothing glaringly fabulous about Ya Lamaï, Rose Chalalai Singh’s low-key Thai joint on a side street in Paris’s Marais neighborhood — except, perhaps, the crowd that frequented it. Regulars included Riccardo Tisci, Haider Ackermann, and Christophe Lemaire. “Oh, look, there’s Douglas Gordon, getting naked!” Singh exclaims, referring to the Scottish artist, as she swipes through snapshots on her phone. Of course, the food was good, too. Singh prepared the dishes her grandmother cooked for her in Bangkok, where she grew up among 10 uncles and aunts while her businessman father worked in Burma. “She made the fish sauce by stomping on the fish,” Singh tells me over coffee in the café downstairs from the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, an artist, and her 7-year-old son, Gabriel. Singh, likewise, makes her own fish sauce, but she credits the restaurant’s success to its location: “There are a lot of fashion designers in the area, and any place where you have fashion people coming in becomes hip.” She’s being modest. Singh may be in the food business, but she can run with those wolves. She studied art, and she and the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, who cooks as part of his practice, are friends. After graduating, Singh ran the Bangkok showroom of the interior designer Christian Liaigre and consulted on the design of a hotel in Phuket, before moving to Paris seven years ago. Ya Lamaï was supposed to be a grocery store with takeout — only nobody ever wanted to leave.
Cuisine Art Singh moved the restaurant to the 11th arrondissement in 2015, and the kitchen is now manned by a team of Thai sous chefs, freeing her up to cater events, which she does frequently for galleries like Gagosian, Thaddaeus Ropac, and Bruno Bischofberger, as well as for the fashion production company KCD and the luxury conglomerate LVMH. She’s transformed a former sculpture studio into a second, private kitchen and event space, where she holds dinners and is developing a delivery service that she anticipates will take off during the FIAC art fair and Fashion Week, “when everyone’s going back to their hotels and ordering room service sandwiches. So sad.” In the small upstairs office, she has hung portraits of the king and queen of Thailand, “because it’s where I come from,” alongside a collage of thank-you notes from the Gagosian team and editors at Vogue Paris. We stumble over a dish of salt at the entrance (“to keep the evil at bay”) and a box of pajamas in Yves Klein blue linen and Comme des Garçons–style gingham made for Singh by a tailor in Bangkok. These, plus a swipe of red lipstick, are her daily uniform. “You’ve got to be comfortable,” she says.
Stirring the Pot Singh’s off-duty wardrobe is very different from her work uniform. In a closet the size of a small studio apartment is her stash of vintage furs, embroidered silks inherited from her grandmother, pieces by Dries Van Noten, Céline, Marni, and Cortana — a Barcelona-based label designed by her friend Rosa Esteva. “These are mostly things I wear, like, once a year,” Singh says with a laugh. The apartment is newly renovated, and Singh is making her mark room by room, starting with a sunny library where she’s grouped Memphis chairs around an Alvar Aalto table and lamp: “I have too much ADD to read many books, but I try to get my son to!” The kitchen is entirely her domain — not that she has time to use it, given her assortment of projects. On one of her frequent trips to Thailand, she embedded with a farmer who tends a plot owned by the royal family. And her dream is to open a wellness center on the island of Mallorca. “I’ll have my own olive oil, but for health — not cosmetics. There will be some Chinese medicines and tea, and then we’ll cook with food from the garden.” If, a couple of years from now, a small Spanish seaside village is suddenly overrun with naked artists, well, you’ll know why.
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