The Queen of Thai has returned. Not that Chef Nuit ever left. Meeting at the Adelaide Street West palace known as Kiin, it had been a while since we last spoke. (Catch our previous interview here).
So many beloved Toronto restaurants closed during COVID. Her own beloved Sabai Sabai was expropriated by the city for a new subway line. It’s fair to say Chef has had her fair share of challenges.
Although it’s always darkest before dawn, Chef Nuit shined through the night. Faced with insurmountable challenges and changes, we tapped Nuit for how she got through, and what she’s excited for next.
GROWTH, RESILIENCE AND BUILDING NEW ROOTS
Chef Nuit’s depth in Thai food is evident in each of her restaurants. Between her upbringing in Thailand emulating her mother’s recipes to introducing these flavours to Toronto over the past decade, Chef Nuit has always relied on authenticity to showcase her delicious dishes.
But this dedication to details proved to be another thorny issue. With sky-high inflation and flights now re-routed or cancelled, Nuit had to rely on new ways to gather her ingredients.
“I made an ally, I import so much from Thailand and the flight was now unavailable. The price was 5 times or higher. I try to use similar products that grow here. It’s allowed me to get to know more people in the industry. I went to Riverdale Hub, with vegetables growing on the roof and met Marina Mak from Social Gardener Cafe – we’re now using their products and have an order for next year.”Chef Nuit Regular
FAMILY FIRST AND FOREMOST, THE ROYAL WAY
Unfortunately, sourcing ingredients wasn’t her only setback. Caught up in the chaos of COVID was the opening of her Yonge and Eglinton location of Pai. And because it technically wasn’t open for business it therefore wasn’t eligible for any government subsidies. 12,000 sq ft of restaurant sitting vacant is big money to leave on the table.
Instead, Nuit rallied and opened for takeout. It may have been the bare minimum but at least it was something. Cadence calls with her team opened up new cost saving and sustainability practices. Kale now provides the colour and added nourishment for her homemade egg noodles. Carrot tops and fiborous Chinese broccoli stems add vibrancy to the green curry recipe.
“We reasssed what was going to happen, we met monthly. The work kept us going. I look at myself like I’m the mother of my team, and I look after them like children. I will take them through this storm. Being together got us through.”Chef Nuit Regular
STEEPED IN TRADITION, BONDED IN WHAT’S NEXT
It’s an exciting time for Thai food lovers in Toronto. With Kiin finally reopened, Selva running at full steam at RendezViews and Pai² popping up all over the place, Chef is eager to get the train back on the track.
Making her team whole during the pandemic, Nuit was resolute. “We reached out to the team on Zoom and told them we would help, if the government wasn’t able to help 100%, we would step in.” Loyal staff stuck around because they could and because they cared.
And she’ll need that staff to ensure smooth service and an optimal hum coming from her kitchen at Kiin. The table is set, but Nuit’s not finished there. Next up, she’s planning a deep-dive on the flavour and history of royal cuisine. Replete with elaborate presentation and extravagance, it will no doubt be befitting of a queen.
With sunny skies prevailing Chef Nuit is ready for fall. She’s planning to take each day as they come. “Finish today, then we’ll talk about tomorrow. That’s how I live,” offers Nuit. “The food from my mom’s kitchen to the royal table- that’s my next project.”
All images by Libby Roach.
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