2018 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Parnass Savang of Talat Market

2018 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Parnass Savang of Talat Market
January 2018

Parnass Savang was born in San Diego to hard-working immigrant parents from Bangkok, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos. His family moved to Duluth, Georgia—right outside Atlanta—when he was 2, and a short three years later he was working in the family business: a Thai restaurant that catered to American tastes. Savang washed dishes, picked cilantro, and eventually waited tables. And he hated it. Eventually, inspired by Gordon Ramsay’s U.K. “Kitchen Nightmares” (of all shows), Savang started to feel the pull toward the kitchen.

He cooked throughout his two semesters at Valdosta State University and went on to study at The Culinary Institute of America. After graduation, he returned to Atlanta and began to cook in some of the city’s best restaurants, including Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South, Miles Macquarrie’s Kimball House, and Staplehouse with Ryan Smith. With each restaurant, Savang deepened his ties with Georgia farmers and a vision for his own project soon crystallized.

Seeing a lack of good Thai restaurants in Atlanta, Savang studied cookbooks by David Thompson and Andy Ricker and decided he would make heartfelt, no-compromise Thai food with local ingredients. In 2017, Savang debuted Talat Market pop-up. Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—and to immediate success—Atlantans form lines around the block to experience his nuanced crudos, funky fresh salads, and made-from-scratch curries. In less than a year, he earned Eater’s 2017 “Chef of the Year” and a StarChefs Rising Stars Award.

Interview with Atlanta Rising Star Chef Parnass Savang

Caroline Hatchett: When did you start cooking professionally? 
Parnass Savang:
I was born in San Diego and moved to Duluth, Georgia, when I was 2. My mom is from Bangkok and grew up in a fruit market. My dad was born in Laos. His father had a drugstore, and the sign outside the restaurant is from that drugstore. By 5, I was washing dishes, doing prep work, and picking basil and cilantro in my parents’ restaurant. I became a waiter for a bit. I didn’t want to be in the family business at all. I wanted to be an actor or athlete. I ran out of ideas. Late at night I watched the British version of “Kitchen Nightmares” with Gordon Ramsay. I thought he was a cool chef, and helping people improve. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and luckily, I fell in love with cooking. I cooked throughout high school in Atlanta. I came back to my roots and found that Thai food was underrepresented. My family’s cuisine rings true to my heart. 

CH: When did your vision for Talat Market crystalize?
PS: I always had this idea. The plan was to understand ingredients of Georgia first. Along that path, I was learning to cook Thai food. There weren’t a lot of pop-ups yet, so I was cooking at home. I bought David Thompson’s cookbook, and it broke down how Thai meals were made at home. It was so different reading that book—there was no butter. He got umami from soy sauce, mushrooms, and dehydrated products. Eventually, I got tired of working for someone else, and Atlanta wasn’t producing what I wanted to eat or cook. No one was stepping up. It made me impatient, so I took a leap of faith and tried out this concept. I contacted Jarrett Stieber when I saw that he got out and did his own thing. I started with a fermented rice pop-up. We did some fermented cabbage and rice ice cream. People liked it, and Jarett gave me this space [at Gato]. Talat Market was born.

CH: What’s your biggest challenge? 
Being a chef. I was only a line cook, never a sous chef. I never learned to do finances, do menus, talk with press, talk to customers. All this stuff, I’m learning. That has been the hardest—but it’s much better to have my name on something. 

CH: Who's your mentor? 
David Thompson is a “book” mentor, along with Andy Ricker and Kris Yenbamroong. Ryan Smith and Hugh Acheson helped get me to where I am today.

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community? 
I’m looking forward to branching out more. A lot of our time was spent trying to get the business up and running. Now that we have a system, we can. I want to go out to the farmers market more and make dinners with other chefs.