Out of the Dorm and Into the Oven
It’s a sunny day in Doi Saket as we follow Pimmas “Pam” Singtham’s black pick-up through the rice paddies. The sky is an improbable blue and the mountains are indigo stains over yellow and green stretches of farmland.
When we arrive at our destination, Pam hops out, a pretty, sprightly 25-year-old dressed in jeans and a white top embroidered with flowers. “Welcome!” she says, and shows us around the property, a complex of houses occupied by Pam’s parents, aunt and grandfather, who perches on a stool in the shade, weaving bamboo baskets that he will sell at the market for one and half baht each.
Pam leads us into the kitchen. This is her workshop now, a bright airy space with two ovens, one large and industrial looking, and one small – a throwback to her roots. Today we’re making zucchini walnut tea loaves with raisins and whole wheat flour.
I try to hide my general kitchen incompetence by cracking eggs into a bowl (and covertly removing bits of shell) while Pam chops walnuts and deftly runs fresh zucchini through a food processor. The day is warm but breezy; it feels good to spend it far away from a computer screen. Just another day of work at the Dorm Bakery.
It all began back in 2011, when Pam was a third year student living in a dormitory at Chiang Mai University. There, she studied economics, gearing up for the inevitable banking job that she would take upon graduating.
“That’s what my parents wanted, for me to work at a bank, wear a suit every day,” Pam recalls. “But that’s not my style.”
Pam spent her free time baking – cakes, cookies, pies, you name it. The only problem was that she had to go all the way back home to Doi Saket each time she wanted to cook. And so, she brought a small oven back, wedged it into her dorm room and went to work. Thus, the Dorm Bakery was born.
“People would smell things baking from the hallway and ask ‘what’s that?’” she recalls with a laugh. “I made lots of friends!”
Then graduation came, and with it, the dreaded bank job.
“I didn’t like it!” Pam says with vigour. “But my dad asked, ‘What’s your next job?’ and when I said ‘baker’ he said, ‘No, you have to work at the bank and make money.’”
But Pam’s boyfriend, now husband, a Mexican-American artist named Nicolas, was more supportive. “He asked me, ‘What’s your passion?’ I said baking and cooking, and he said, ‘Okay, then follow your passion.’”
And so she did. At lunch one day at Pun Pun in Chiang Mai, Pam struck up a conversation with the owner, and asked if she might be able to sell her baked goods at the caf?. He agreed, proposing something healthy and portable that would sit well with Pun Pun’s clientele. Then Nicolas suggested granola bars, and Pam found a recipe, adapting it to her own tastes and making it healthier by reducing the oil. She began selling the bars under the company name Dorm Bakery, and the rest is history.
Today, Pam sells about 300 of her famous Original Chiang Mai Granola Bars each week at 20 different shops throughout the city, including ImmAim, Bird’s Nest Cafe and Cat House. Flavours include banana, cranberry, orange, prune and vegan coconut dark chocolate (my personal favourite). She also does special order bakery items including cakes, pies and sweet breads, available for delivery and all made at her family kitchen in Doi Saket. Pam lives just five minutes away, in a charming little house that she and Nicolas built themselves when they got married, on a pretty green property complete with a koi pond and a wooden swing.
Dorm Bakery has now become a full time job and a family affair; Pam’s mother and aunt help her with the baking. Her father, she says, has come around. “He gave up,” she says, smiling. “He said, ‘You can be anything you want, go ahead and be a buffalo!’ But he finally accepted it about two years ago when he saw I was making my own money, and happy! He doesn’t say anything anymore.”
Pam’s blog : www.wowpam.com