Justin Pichetrungsi

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Justin Pichetrungsi is no stranger to the heat of a kitchen. At Anajak Thai he’s carrying the torch of his father Ricky, who first opened Anajak as a neighborhood restaurant in 1981. While he has always helped out in the family business, his full-time pivot into the kitchen wasn’t fully planned. When his dad experienced a stroke in 2019, Justin left his decade-long career in entertainment at Disney and teaching at Art Center College of Design. Since taking over in 2019, Justin has added Anajak’s highly sought after Thai Taco Tuesdays and a revamped menu built upon family recipes, all while becoming an award-winning chef. We’re so excited to introduce you to Justin, a kindred spirit whose creativity in the kitchen pushes boundaries.
Photo credit: Pete Lee & Carter Hiyama

What are you hoping to spark with your work?

One of the thesis I try to share is this: even if something is old, it's not out of style. And sometimes you can still teach a dog new tricks, and I think that's possible in a restaurant, even though it seems impossible. For me, I encourage people to take over their parents businesses, because I think it's one of the very rare things that we don't see so much in America. Because in America, we believe that we can become independently wealthy within one generation, we have the belief, and we have that hope. And that's the American dream. So we believe we can build it from scratch. And I believe that's true for most people. In their mind, that's why we have so many doctors and lawyers, because that's the fastest way to wealth, you can turn it around within one generation. But the opposite of that is to take something that was given to you and to make improvements over a long period of time. So you can create a new car model every year, or you can do it as Porsche did, and you can continue to just innovate on the 911. The Leica M model will be improved upon after decades and decades and decades. In in 100 years, they'll still have the same body. I think there's something to that. It's trying to understand how to transfer energy from the past and bring it into the future.

Tell us about a life experience that expanded your mind

One of the more defining times of my life was going to Art Center College of Design. Spending the time and really grinding, making stuff. When you're a creative person, you want to just make stuff all the time. And this was a way to turn that muscle on whenever you need to do it. And you learn how to do it in a professional way. And it wasn't until I started to teach there in the younger part of my career that like I really saw how creativity really worked. It's still how I see the rest of the world — through an art and design, and a food lens.

Even though food is the medium now, I still see it as the same thing. We're in a square room, it's a studio. We're in a room, it's a kitchen. And we're all like exchanging ideas and in exchange for the satisfaction and the enjoyment of those ideas. So those for me those moments, you know, not sleeping for days and realizing you could still come up with stuff was kind of remarkable.

Hot take about the restaurant industry??

I'll say that everyone's crudos are bad. I haven't had one that I've ever liked. And that's probably because no one knows how to cut fish. And so all the crudos are these thick cuts of raw fish. It's like you can barely choke it down. Everyone wants to put it on the menu because they think it's easy. But really, it's kind of hard.

What has recently inspired you that you weren’t expecting?

The Taste of Things. The reason why it's cool is because it really slows everything down. Most movies and shows that include food and cooking are always really fast. And this is slow and it brings the pleasure of cooking to the forefront. You know, it's really nice. And I've just been thinking about, like, how do we slow our movements down? How do we become more intentional with what it is that we make? Going back to shooting with a film camera, you have to be really slow and thoughtful and not wasteful. And same with cooking, how do you be slow and thoughtful, not wasteful. But when you're really composing stuff, it's nice to be able to write a novel on a typewriter. Because the vessel in which we're writing, nowadays has all this distraction to it. So, I find that the best thing to do is to find ways to like really cut the noise and quiet things and make art that doesn't contribute to the noise.

What is a place that grounds you?

My office is my CR-V. And I take many calls like this one, in that CRV. And it's the only time where nothing really bothers me. And because my commutes can be long, I find that I just kind of get a little bit lost in the car. You never know what you can find while getting lost, like a new restaurant or a new corner or something to take a picture of.


Oh, my girlfriend and I really love going to the coffee shop down the street from here. It's called Document Coffee. It's probably one of the top 10 coffee bars in America. But it's very busy. It was curated and run by artists.

They went to Otis, they have a beautiful eye. And it's kind of feels like an extension of home. You know what it feels like? It feels like going to school. Like your school cafeteria where you can just kind of sit forever.

What is a meal that changed your life?

I'm thinking of one right now in Sevilla. There's this really old restaurant called Mara. When you go it's, it's like a house in Sevilla. And they have like a ham there. And they slice it right in front of you. Again, it's very sort of Taste of Things in a way because it feels slow and it feels so old school. It feels of an entire century ago. And I like food because it's real food.