Rose Chalalai Singh’s motto? “Never eat alone.” The Bangkok-born chef inherited her conviviality from her businessman father, who, she says, has never had a meal solus in his entire life. “The minute the food is on the table, he calls someone to join him,” says Singh, miming a telephone call. “And someone will call someone who will call someone else. He has between five and 30 people eating with him every day. Sometimes he doesn’t even know who they are.” Singh smiles, adding, “If there is nobody to eat with him, he prefers not to eat.”
Singh, 42, never has to worry about skipping meals, however. Her buzzy Paris restaurant, Rose Kitchen, which is located in the historic Marché des Enfants Rouges, in the Marais, means that she’s constantly surrounded by friends and other fans who might drop in, say, for a bowl of tom yam kung. The fashion designers Haider Ackermann and Christophe Lemaire are regulars, and the photographer Juergen Teller and the jeweler Patcharavipa Bodiratnangkura each take a table whenever they’re in town. Singh’s food has an appealingly unpretentious, home-cooked quality to it and, no wonder, as her Thai dishes are informed by her childhood spent helping her Chinese grandmother in the kitchen. “She had 11 children, so she was always cooking massive meals,” Singh says. “She only cooked on charcoal, and everything was fresh.” Rose Kitchen’s dining room is similarly low-key. Its soothing green celadon walls and lemon yellow tables are accented by turmeric-hued cushions, a bar laid with zesty orange tiles and shelves of Singh’s personal collection of Majorcan and French pottery.
Though she’s a natural hostess, Singh didn’t start out intending to open a restaurant. When she first moved to Paris, in 2009, she thought she’d run a grocery with takeout options. As friends stopped by the tiny store on a Marais side street, though, they began pulling up a chair and sharing a drink, then a meal. Soon, she converted the space into a pint-size cafe, christened Ya Lamaï (the name of Singh’s grandmother), that became a favorite canteen of local artists, designers and architects. After Ya Lamaï moved to larger premises in the 11th Arrondissement, Singh shifted her focus to a catering company she launched with Petra Lindbergh in 2019, accommodating events for clients such as Chanel and Gagosian. In 2020, she persuaded the gallerist Frank Elbaz, who is married to her friend the fashion designer Vanessa Bruno, to lease her the restaurant space he’d purchased at the Marché. Rose Kitchen opened in June of 2021 and, most days, Singh can be found behind the till or chasing after her 12-year-old son, Gabriel, who runs odd jobs for his mother after school — that is, when he isn’t mapping out a business plan for a future bubble tea empire he’s set his sights on.
On a recent summer evening, Singh hosted a birthday dinner for Clara Cornet, who’s a former fashion buyer now working for Instagram, on Rose Kitchen’s terrace. The guest list included a number of fashion and food types, among them the florist and former art dealer Louis-Géraud Castor; the creative director and former co-founder of Colette, Sarah Andelman; the model and founder of clothing label Rouje, Jeanne Damas; the designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin; and the chef Zélikha Dinga.
It was a relaxed affair, with guests displaying a decidedly Gallic approach to time-keeping by arriving in dribs and drabs as the sun went down. Castor breezed in to dress the long table with exuberant flowers as cans of Canetta natural wine — the fruits of Cornet’s partner, the restaurateur Luca Pronzato’s lockdown side hustle — were passed around. Once guests had taken their seats, Singh sent out bowls of seasonal vegetables, including fava beans with cherries, raw asparagus in tamarind sauce with chicken balls and mango salad, followed by vegetable curry with Thai eggplant and steamed dorado fish with mint and lemongrass. Later, when Cornet blew out her candles — placed atop a tiered strawberry birthday cake baked by Dinga, who also made a lemon meringue pie — the guests cheered. Here, Singh shares her tips for throwing an alfresco dinner party of your own.
Much as it infuriates clients, Singh never likes to commit to a menu before she’s visited the market. “I try to use local ingredients as much as I can,” she says. (She tries, too, to resist anything processed, just like her grandmother, who made everything, even fish and soy sauce, from scratch. “I don’t think she ever bought anything that was already made, from a bottle, box or can,” says Singh.) She also recommends creating a varied menu that accommodates everyone’s dietary needs. “We do everything: vegetarian, fish, meat,” she says. The one (occasionally unseasonal) constant is her signature mango salad. The secret to its satisfying crunch are very young, almost unripe mangoes, either from Thailand or India. “When they are young and really firm, they have this sourness,” says Singh.
Sharing Is Caring
“In Thailand, there is never one plat for one person, except when you go to a noodle place or eat on the street. If you’re at home or a restaurant, you share,” says Singh. This approach ensures that guests take the time to register the food that they’re eating, rather than just absent-mindedly digging in, and creates a social atmosphere. Even if you don’t own sharing platters, splitting the food up into small serving bowls and placing them around the table encourages guests to interact with one another. “You always have to serve the others first; you don’t take it for yourself,” adds Singh, echoing a Thai tradition her father enforced at home. Sharing also means that you don’t have to worry so much about picture-perfect presentation.
Press Pause on the Music
Singh likes to listen to music while cooking but makes a point of halting the playlist when guests arrive. “I was once at a dinner in the South of France with Alain Planès, the pianist,” she explains. “The host put on some music for ambience, and Alain said, ‘Music should be listened to — it’s not background.’ And he’s right.” Singh adds that music can add positive vibes later on in the evening, though — after the dessert, “when people start to drink and smoke.”
Cast a Wide Net
Singh enjoys working with friends from all over the world, and a dinner is a chance to show off her network’s respective talents. She laid the table with vegetable-dyed linen produced as part of a collaboration between Rose Kitchen and Lefts, a Tokyo-based housewares brand run by Yuuki Michida; had Castor decorate the table with bright, eccentric arrangements featuring pink celosias, yellow immortelles and purple alliums; and served the food in marbled dishes created by a fashion-industry pal who takes a weekly pottery class and gifts Singh the results. “Everything here is personal,” says Singh. Ergo, “you feel comfortable.”