When Colorado Springs’ top chefs gathered this April at the Taste of Pikes Peak, aka the 24th annual Pikes Peak Food, Wine and Beer Expo, one came out on top. Supansa Banker was awarded overall winner of the culinary competition, along with sous-chef Jeremiah Farnham. It was Banker’s third time receiving the recognition, having won in 2015 and ’17. “I didn’t expect to win this year,” Supansa says. “I was asked to participate only five days [prior]. I went into it to have fun. I told Jeremiah to experience the moment … to be present and take it in.”
Supansa grew up in Phetchabun, Thailand, in a fertile valley in central Thailand with mountains to the east and west. Its name means “town that grows plenty of crops.”“I grew up with very little … only a couple dresses and two pair of shoes, but we were never poor,” she says. “We raised chickens and grew all our own herbs and vegetables—we didn’t have to go to market.”
Raised by her grandmother, Supansa began learning to cook at the age of 8. “My interest began when my grandma allowed me in the kitchen,” she says. “I started cooking for family and friends. In Thailand, you cook for nurturing [those] around you. The culture is about bringing people together.”
Her life in the United States began in Los Angeles with her now ex-husband, who is manager for Ted Nugent, rock guitarist turned political activist. “In America, I saw the Food Network and thought, You can be somebody! You can cook for a living,”Supansa says. Eventually, she took classes in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Washtenaw Community College, studying hospitality and culinary arts. “Work in a restaurant while in school,” she advises. “I started working during my first semester and excelled much faster. School gives head knowledge … and instructors won’t yell at you, but the kitchen [provides] hands-on experience.”
She moved to Colorado Springs in 2012 and finished her degree at Pikes Peak Community College. Within seven years of living in the Springs, Supansa has worked at The Broadmoor, Nosh, 2South Food + Wine, The Wobbly Olive, as a personal chef with The House Chef and currently at Province Springs. And she has made a big impact on the culinary scene.
“Working with Chef Supansa is always an honor,” Farnham says. “Her approach to food is unlike anything I’ve seen. She just let’s her work speak for itself; its simplicity and elegance is beautiful.” Farnham previously worked with Supansa at Wobbly Olive. He has also competed alongside her as a sous-chef in other local competitions, including Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo and Culinary Passport.
For this year’s Taste of Pikes Peak, chefs created two dishes utilizing surprise central components; they were allowed to bring only three ingredients into the competition. Supansa and Farnham entered with rice, miso sauce and tempura batter; all other elements were provided to competitors. “For the first round, we were given fennel,” Supansa says. “I did tempura fennel with miso sauce and heirloom tomato. I garnished with fresh fennel, apple, bacon and walnut.” For the second round, pork was the surprise element. “I filleted and tied it around pineapple,” Supansa says. “I used sticky rice as a bed, and topped it with pico de gallo.”
When asked about her approach to food, Supansa answers without hesitation, “My beliefs respect what I cook and who I cook for. I believe in ingredients—let them speak … they’re precious. Fennel bulbs are delicious, and I didn’t want to get in their way—so for my first course, fennel was the star. Also, know your audience … and remember that happiness is the goal.”
Supansa finishes our conversation full-circle, reminiscing about her upbringing and her last visit to Thailand, seven years ago, shortly after moving to Colorado Springs. “I traveled … to say goodbye to my grandmother,” Supansa says. “A couple days after, she passed. I miss her everyday. After [this year’s] competition, I thought how she shaped me into who I am. What she taught was her biggest gift.”
Taste of Pikes Peak
Read more about the 2019 Taste of Pikes Peak in our article “Inside the Taste of Pikes Peak.”