After spending much of her career working alongside David Thompson, it’s safe to say Annita Potter knows a thing or two about Thai cuisine. From Nahm to Long Chim, her career has taken her to Paris, London, Singapore, and Thailand. But after decades living abroad, she decided to put down roots in Sydney and open Viand in Woolloomooloo.

Potter’s offering at Viand is not the kind of Thai cuisine most are familiar with — and that’s exactly how she likes it. Potter looks back on her career with Hospitality, covering lessons learned from Thompson and the cuisine she’s serving up at Viand.

Annita Potter grew up in Perth with a Croatian and Italian family, which saw her swiftly immerse herself in the world of cooking. “Food was a big thing in our family,” she says. “It was always talking about the next meal during the meal we were eating.”

While her father wanted her to become an accountant, Potter decided to head down the culinary career path. “I didn’t really know what the industry would look like at all, I was a person going, ‘Yeah, I can cook’.”

Potter’s first apprenticeship was at Bay Restaurant in Perth, with the chef going on to work overseas like most of her peers. But unlike those who opted to go to London, she decided to challenge herself by heading to Paris. It was here where she worked at The Kitchen, which served French and European cuisine, with Potter feeling like a very small fish in a very big pond.

But after her mother became unwell, Potter returned to Perth and had plans to take on a job in Italy later on. But the restaurant suddenly closed and she found herself in Perth for longer than expected. “It’s when I really decided I didn’t want to be there … I needed something else,” she says.

The extended stay turned into a pivotal moment for the itchy-footed chef. She found herself at a dinner hosted by her soon-to-be mentor and Thai cuisine expert David Thompson. “I got him [Thompson] to sign a book and all I was thinking was, ‘Oh my god, I want to be like you’,” she says.

Amidst the awe, Potter took Thompson’s email address and sent him her resume. Months passed and she heard nothing, going on to travel to London. Potter decided to approach Thompson’s Michelin-starred restaurant Nahm in person and try her luck. “The next thing I know I’m banging on the door in London saying, ‘I want a job!’” she laughs.

Nahm’s head chef gave Potter a gruelling 12-hour trial shift only to tell her there were no positions available when it was over. “However, he thought I would be a great fit in the kitchen,” she says. “[He said] if I could give him a few days to talk with David, he could perhaps create a position.” Soon after, Potter received the call to say she was hired — and that’s where her journey with Thompson began.”

“It was one of those sink-or-swim kitchens and probably one of the toughest I’ve worked in,” says Potter on Nahm’s kitchen environment. “Every single thing was done perfectly and if it wasn’t, it was done again.” Potter says Thompson’s dedication to preserving Thai cuisine is something to be admired. “He doesn’t compromise and nor should he,” she says. “He has learned so much — he’s basically the oracle of Thai food.”

Thompson’s dishes are based on foundational Thai recipes translated into English, with the chef only slightly modifying the originals to use accessible, modern-day ingredients. “He believes in standing up for the integrity of the cuisine rather than allowing things to change or soften,” says Potter. “It has taught me to keep that same level of work ethic and authenticity.”

Potter worked with Thompson at Nahm for about a year until it closed. Before the restaurant shut down, Thompson approached each staff member and asked about their ideal next workplace. “Everyone was like, ‘I want go and work with Gordon Ramsay’, or ‘I want go and work with Heston Blumenthal’,” she recalls.

“He [Thompson] would call them up, and basically all the wishes were granted.” While she admits it was a huge opportunity career-wise, Potter travelled overseas to work with Thompson. “I said to him, ‘I came to work with you, so you find me a job’,” she says. Thompson told Potter there was a position for her in Bangkok — and it is where she went.

The chef relocated to Thailand with Thompson to set up base and went on to launch the first Long Chim restaurant in Singapore. It was a time of bouncing between countries for Potter who describes the experience as “basically everything I wanted to do”.

The two chefs eventually returned to Australia to open Long Chim in Sydney. Potter says it was a memorable but demanding experience. “I felt a lot of pressure myself being fully aware it was David coming home [to Australia],” she says.

Long Chim opened in Martin Place, with another local venue launching in Melbourne. Potter was left to run the Sydney kitchen while Thompson was in Melbourne. “He [Thompson] was in and out, but it was my kitchen and everything was my responsibility,” she says. “I fell into the pocket of being used to that spotlight and embracing it … I don’t know if I necessarily liked or disliked that position — it was just my job.”

After six months, Potter set off again to Bangkok and London before returning to Sydney in 2019 to open Viand. Launching her own venue was always on the cards for the chef, even when she was working with Thompson. “It was whether or not I stay with David and continue jumping around the world,” she says. “But things were getting to a point where if I was going to do something, I needed to start thinking about it soon.”

Viand was a pop-up in the Mint in 2020 until early 2021 before it moved into more permanent digs in Woolloomooloo the following year in March. Viand’s menu features five- and eight-course degustation menu options, which Potter says was a conscious choice. “It’s what dining used to be, where diners would be like, ‘Just look after me and look after me well’, rather than the forgotten diner who just gets thrown a menu.”

Potter’s approach to Thai cuisine is heavily influenced by her time with Thompson, and the result is quite different to what most Sydney diners are acquainted with. “I’m trying to push boundaries with things people are not used to eating,” says Potter. “But with Sydney having Thai food for so many years, it’s like me saying, ‘It’s not really Thai food you’re eating’.”

Potter says she had to be very careful with how far she went with unfamiliar flavours and dishes. “The Sydney [market] is so close knit, they know what they like and have high expectations.”

Some of the dishes you’ll find on Potter’s menu include a red curry of minced quail with young ginger snake beans, and nutmeg plus Gregory Island tiger prawns with banana blossom, golden shallots, and chilli jam. But something you won’t come across? Green curry.

“I’m not doing green curry or any of those kinds of things because the local place down the corner you’ve been going to for years will be the benchmark,” says Potter. “Whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t matter. But the green curry I give you will be completely different, and because you’re not used to it, it’ll automatically be wrong.”

One dish on Viand’s menu pays homage to Potter’s time with Thompson, with her version based on the egg nets he served at Nahm. “I don’t call them egg nets to slightly disassociate myself from him and his cooking, but essentially it is an ode to my time working with David,” says Potter. “It was one of the first dishes I had in the kitchen at Nahm that almost transformed how I saw Thai food.”

Potter says there’s quite a few dishes that have sprinklings of Thompson’s technique and style, but the egg nets stand out. “It’s one of the most memorable, in both good and bad ways,” she laughs.

Viand has been open for just over a year, and Potter and her team feel very grateful for the support and strong following of return customers. “It is those regulars who come back in and keep you kicking,” she says. “They allow you to grow and progress because they’re like, ‘We’ve done this a couple of times, what’s next?’”

As for the goal for the rest of 2023? There are no grand plans at the moment, but the aim is to continue regular service along with the restaurant’s sell-out BYO nights and hands-on cooking masterclasses led by Potter herself.

If you ever find yourself visiting Viand, you’ll be sure to see the chef in action in Viand’s open kitchen. For Potter, there’s no other place she’d rather be. “Everyone keeps telling me it’s rare I’m in the kitchen as the name chef, but they’re coming in to eat my food,” she laughs. “So perhaps it’s me with a fear of missing out, but I want to cook for everybody.”