For Chef Nuit Regular, cooking is all about love
Meet TL Insider’s Chef-In-Residence for August!
When it comes to Thai food in Toronto, there is no culinary force quite like Chef Nuit Regular. As Executive Chef and Co-Owner of the incredibly popular restaurants Pai Northern Thai Kitchen, Sabai Sabai, Sukhothai, and Kiin–Nuit has introduced Canadians to an exceptional standard of Thai dining. With a cookbook on the way and an exciting new position as TL Insider’s Chef-In-Residence, she is keeping Toronto well-fed, even amidst a pandemic. We caught up with Nuit to discuss the reopening of her restaurants, what she’ll be bringing to the table as our Chef-In-Residence this August, and her culinary inspiration–love.
As a restaurant owner, how has it been adjusting to the city’s gradual reopening?
In some ways it feels like we are starting all over again and re-imagining how to operate our business. Before the pandemic, I would have up to thirty team members working in a kitchen. Now, working with a smaller team has been the biggest adjustment for us so far. The food we cook is made to order, which requires a lot of preparation to make the process run as smoothly as possible. Luckily, before the pandemic hit, we opened a commissary kitchen downtown where we keep all our ingredients and get a lot of that prep work done, this leaves us with more room to cook in our restaurant kitchens. As stressful as it has been, I’m very excited to bring back the team and get things up and running.
Are all of your locations operating now?
Most of them are open, yes, other than Kiin. At Kiin, it’s all about the authentic experience of a Thai meal. Many of the dishes and their presentation don’t hold well as delivery, so we felt it was best not to reopen just yet. But we are working on some pop-up ideas so we can utilize the space and bring our team back to work even if it looks a little different. Hopefully, that will be happening soon.
It’s very exciting to have you as TL Insider’s Chef-In-Residence! What sort of programming can members look forward to?
I have so many ideas! One thing that I’ve been thinking about is a deep-dive into the technique of cooking Thai food. I’m sure many of the members have an interest in cooking, hopefully with an interest in Thai cuisine. Something I can share is the special techniques I’ve learned from my family and generations of tradition. For example, the way I use a mortar and pestle to make curry paste, or how to make Northern Thai-style sticky rice, which we use more often than classic Jasmine rice. Techniques and traditions you don’t normally see in a cooking class are what I’d like to share. I will also be curating a grocery selection with wine pairings for the Toronto Life Insider Chef’s Pantry program, where members can purchase the ingredients for some exciting recipes to make at home.
Have you hosted any masterclasses or virtual workshops in the past?
I’ve instructed cooking classes before and really enjoyed the opportunity to share with others the craft of Thai cooking, though I’ve never led a class online. Especially now, after spending so much time at home, I’m excited to experiment a little and try something new with the virtual classes.
Are there any other projects you’ve been working on?
Actually, yes! I’ve been working with Penguin Random House Canada on my very first cookbook, Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand! After more than two years of working on this project, it will be published on October 20. Inspired by my upbringing in Northern Thailand, the book shares many new recipes, photography, and stories of mine.
What inspires you to cook?
I would say what inspires me to cook is love. When I first began cooking, it was in my mother’s kitchen. She would cook lunch or dinner for the whole family, and when asked to help, I couldn’t say no. Even though I didn’t enjoy cooking at the time, I loved her too much to leave all the work on her shoulders.
When I moved away from my family to work as a nurse in Thailand I began cooking for myself, and I loved the way it made me feel close to my mother. Now, having a family of my own, I cook to share that love. Even with my restaurants, I can use cooking to share the culture of Northern Thailand. When I first started cooking professionally, guests would visit the kitchen to thank me for dinner–my heart would fill with love. It always comes back to love.
For anyone beginning to cook Thai food at home, what are some essential ingredients to have in the kitchen?
I would suggest fish sauce and oyster sauce, to start. Tamarind, chilis and coconut milk are very good to have also. These are staples I always have in my pantry.
Your restaurants focus on Northern Thai cuisine, can you tell us a bit about how Northern and Southern Thai food differ?
Coconut trees in Southern Thailand produce better milk than in the North, so Southern recipes tend to use more coconut milk. Southern Thai food also uses more Malaysian spices that come from across the border. Northern Thai food traditionally focuses on fresh herbs and vegetables. We grow a lot of lemongrass, ginger, and Mah Kwan peppercorn–which is only found in the North.
What is your perfect comfort food?
It depends on the time of year, of course. For summer, my perfect comfort food is papaya salad. It’s so refreshing, and has lots of fresh vegetables and tomatoes. The taste is a combination of spicy and sweet–it’s amazing. My mouth is watering just talking about it!
Where can I get the best papaya salad in Toronto?
Pai, of course! We even offer meal kits now that deliver everything you need to make your own papaya salad at home. They’re available directly from Pai Northern Thai Kitchen (via takeout) or via UberEats for delivery.