Chef who brought Thai flavors to city

Food & Drinks

Chef who brought Thai flavors to city


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Thai Chi Restaurant’s Thai Master Chef Phansupha Phommee with her fruit and vegetable carvings during the interview at the Sarova Stanley Hotel on March 23, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • From a watermelon carved into a giant flower ball of red and green to a bouquet derived from carrots, radishes and an assortment of other vegetables, this chef demonstrates food fantasy with something of showy deftness.
  • You revel in her food with eyes first before it ruptures your taste buds. Salty. Hot and spicy. Sweet and sour. This is the character of exotic Thai food.
  • This week, the Sarova Stanley received the Thai-select certification from the Ministry of Commerce of the Royal Thai Government for serving authentic Thai food.

There is something intriguingly satisfying about Thai cuisine. Whether it is its flavors that whet your appetite or the imaginative presentation that combines color and variety, Thai food is all aesthetics.

When it comes to presenting delights, Phansupha Phomnee, Sarova Stanley’s chief Thai master, is a peerless craftswoman.

From a watermelon carved into a giant flower ball of red and green to a bouquet derived from carrots, radishes and an assortment of other vegetables, this chef demonstrates food fantasy with something of showy deftness.

You revel in her food with eyes first before it ruptures your taste buds. Salty. Hot and spicy. Sweet and sour. This is the character of exotic Thai food.

“Looks define our food; it must please the eye first, which tempts you to try it out, ”she says.

This cuisine is also about diversity, with nearly ten types of soups, noodles, seafood (calamari and prawns), pork, beef, duck and tens of salads among the popular offerings. Then there is the freshness of ingredients.

“We like a garden-to-kitchen-to-table model. Our vegetables and spices are prepared fresh. ”

This week, the Sarova Stanley received the Thai-select certification from the Ministry of Commerce of the Royal Thai Government for serving authentic Thai food.

This accreditation certifies not only food but also the hospitality and atmosphere of a Thai restaurant. Both Thai restaurants in Thailand and overseas are recognized “to guarantee the authenticity of Thai taste of Thai food products.”

Chef Phansupah, also called Poo, has been a central pillar in this journey. When the restaurant opened doors in 2006, the management tapped into Poo’s global experience. She has worked in Bangkok, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, where she taught Thai cuisine.

Being in Kenya, though, came with profound culture shocks for her. For starters, the food scene was quite unlike anything she had experienced before.

“Food in Kenya is not as elaborate as in Thailand. Kenyans like their food simple. Thais like details. I have had to learn and now I like it here. My family and friends are surprised that I have settled down so well. ”

When she arrived in Kenya, the Thai food scene was characterless. Few Kenyans knew much about these Oriental cuisines, few hotels had Thai offerings and the chefs were few.

Today, the trajectory of this food in the country grows steeper by the day.

“There is more awareness on Thai cuisine. More Kenyan restaurants are offering them, ”she says.

This growth, though, has had casualties, she says. While most leading establishments, including five-star hotels, have opened a Thai restaurant, these have closed down shortly afterwards.

“Most of the restaurants last only a year. The longest they operate for is two years. ” Nairobi Sankara, Villa Rosa Kempinski and DusitD2 have all phased out their Thai restaurants.

Imitations too have thrived, eroding diners’ trust, she observes.

“There are many restaurants that claim to offer Thai food but serve Chinese food instead. For people who know authentic Thai dishes, they end up getting a raw deal. For those who do not know the difference, they never get to experience the magic, ”she says.

Nearly two decades later, Thai Chi restaurant opens daily attending to a growing number of Thai food enthusiasts. It has five chefs attached to it. Nelius Maina is one of the chefs who has worked here alongside Chef Poo for 15 years.

So, what has kept the restaurant going strong when others have been falling by the wayside? Consistency, Nelius emphasizes.

“Diners are very particular about their choices and flavors. Before taking an order, I always ensure I have all the ingredients. If I checked the store and discovered that I do not have a certain element, I would be honest to the client and tell them we can not make the dish and possibly offer an option. ”

As such, the slightest delay in the arrival of key ingredients, some of which are imported from Thailand, gets in the way of providing a complete experience of Thai magic.

While the facility is open to the public, Nelius says most of the diners are high-end customers: diplomats and business people from Asia, European and Kenya.

“Personalities who want privacy while dining in the ambient environment.” There is even a dress code here. “Patrons are required to be in either formal wear or smart casual.” Does Poo enjoy Kenyan food now? She giggles heartily and says: “Kenyans are almost obsessed with beef. I like lamb instead. Lamb, ugali and kachumbari. ”

Her verdict on the growing popularity of Thai food in Kenya? We are right on track, but not quite there. She laments that while Thai food enjoys global popularity, with hundreds of restaurants in Europe and the US, this enthusiasm is still not replicated in Africa.

“However, you can not compare things now and when I came. There is a lot of transformation. ”

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