Chef Irene Li
We recently spoke with Irene to find out more about the world of mobile foodservice and its differing processes from work-life in a brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen.Read Bio
Bringing Authentic Pai Cooking to Toronto
Your concept at Pai Northern Thai Kitchen revolves around taking Torontonians, flavor-wise, to the city of Pai while making Thai visitors feel like they’re back home. How do you feel this stands out from other local Thai concepts?
We like to present our Northern street food at Pai Northern Thai Kitchen in an environment that is true to us. It all comes from the heart. If you look around the space, you’ll see photos of our friends, family, how we met, our favorite musicians and much more. It’s about making sure everyone feels welcome and like they’re home.
Can you describe the different techniques that go into making your dishes, as well as your flavor processes?
We make everything from scratch, hand-selecting the best possible ingredients for our food. I learn and understand each step of the food and teach my team to do the same. In an effort to make every dish as authentically Thai as possible, we import the more-difficult-to-find ingredients straight from Thailand.
Describe the role ingredients like spices, herbs and seasonings play in these Thai creations.
I grew up eating and cooking Thai food where most of the ingredients are herbs and spices. They are an essential part of all of our food at Pai Northern Thai Kitchen.
What have been some of your favorite Pai dishes to recreate? How and why?
Khao Soi, a Northern Thai egg noodle curry dish, was one of my favorite dishes to recreate. The reason for this is that this dish is a combination of my favorite things to eat. I love noodles and beef and they both come together here. This dish brings back some great memories of Northern Thailand, as it has a lot of flavors that I couldn’t find when I first came to Toronto. As soon as I taste it, it brings back happy memories of my childhood with my mother.
Have you encountered any challenges in introducing or developing Pai-reminiscent cuisine? If so, what have they been?
The biggest challenge at the beginning was that I couldn’t find the right ingredients for the dishes I wanted to make at Pai Northern Thai Kitchen. My husband, Jeff and I had to search high and low for a lot of the ingredients to ensure the dishes tasted just right. Finally, we found a way to import what we needed to make the best food possible at Pai.
How does Toronto culture or Canadian seasonality influence your flavor processes or cuisine? Which new flavurs and ingredients can we expect to see making their way to the center-of-the-plate this year?
Coming to Canada piqued my curiosity to combine Canadian ingredients with Thai technique. I have started to play around with maple syrup instead of coconut sugar for example, or eggs benedict with Tom Yum sauce. We’ll be opening up a bar next to Pai in the next few months and I’ve been experimenting with many ingredients but can’t share them yet. Stay tuned!