Chef Nuit Regular sticks to her convictions.
When she and husband Jeff Regular first opened Sukhothai in 2008, a customer called to tell her she didn’t know how to make pad thai.
“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” she recounts. “I held the phone so tightly and my heart felt like it dropped from a tall building.”
Her crime? No ketchup.
At the time, the Regulars were not making much profit – maybe $50 a day. The customer advised that if she started adding ketchup, they would return. Ketchup in pad thai, as a substitute for tamarind paste, is a North American adaptation that makes the dish sweeter than it is traditionally. It also gives it a pinky orange colouring that Regular found odd when she first moved here from Northern Thailand. Through her restaurants (including Pai, our Readers’ Choice for Best Thai Restaurant, and Sukhothai, the runner up), she is bringing the authentic flavours of her homeland to Toronto.
“I want to do things the way I know how, to cook the way that I eat at home. I refused to put ketchup in my pad thai,” she says. “People appreciate the authenticity and oftentimes they come to the kitchen and thank me for making something they’ve never eaten before.”
Sukhothai, Sabai Sabai and Kiin round out the Regular family of restaurants. For four consecutive years, Pai has claimed the title Best Thai Restaurant. It’s been a tough year for the restaurant industry, but Regular is so grateful for the support they continue to receive.
“It’s been so heartwarming to see people still reach out to us and come out to support us. It means the world to me, because Pai, Sukhothai, Sabai Sabai and Kiin are all my life.”
Pai’s second location is opening this week in midtown, near Yonge and Eglinton. The location has been a long time coming thanks to COVID-related hiccups.
There will be new menu items, like pad see ew – a stir-fried flat rice noodle with sweet soy sauce, Chinese broccoli and egg. It was on her recent pop-up menu, By Chef Nuit, and made a cameo at Kiin three years ago.
Her new cookbook, Kiin: Recipes And Stories From Northern Thailand, is another way Regular is bringing Northern Thai cuisine to the mouths of more people. She wants the book to serve as a 101 guide for people dabbling in Thai cooking for the first time, and as a springboard for advanced cooks to improvise and experiment.
She spent two years putting it together. Since all her recipes live in her head, she thought it would be easy to put them on paper. But Regular quickly realized that wouldn’t be the case. She learned to cook instinctively, watching and emulating family members, so she found it challenging to write set measurements.
Kiin is packed with stories and personal anecdotes. One of her favourite recipes is her birthday curry, a dish her mother made for her as a child. It’s a red curry pork called gaeng phed moo. When she makes it now she can feel her mother, who passed away four years ago, watching lovingly over her shoulder.
Check out the full list of this year’s Readers’ Choice winners here.