Today is the first of a two-part interview with Thai Gourmet’s home cooking queen Khun Lek. Khun Lek is the head chef of the very successful Thai food Caterers called Thai Gourmet in the south-west of England. In the first part of the interview we find out about her service and what makes her tick and in the second part she tells us all about the type of dishes she cooks and news of some new menus on the horizon. By the way the word Khun in front of the name is used in Thailand as a polite title and is not her first name Lek is her nickname. The majority of Thai’s are given a short nickname at birth and this is widely used amongst friends, Lek actually means small. Her real name is Prathuan, but for this interview and as she is amongst friends we will stick to Lek.
Khun Lek ”Thai home cooking queen”
Trevor: Where did you grow up and what was life like?
Lek: I grew up in Thailand approximately 3 hours north of Bangkok in a place called Nakhon Sawan. Although it is about 3 hours north of Bangkok it is still known as the central region or Phaak Klaang. Thailand is divided in to regions Phaak Nua (north), Phaak Isaan (north-east), Phaak Klaang (central) and Phaak Taay (south). Growing up was centred mainly around helping my Mother. I had many tasks throughout the day to perform and food was a big part of that, in fact my Mother was a very good cook. I have one older brother and one older sister. My Mother was very hard, if you did not rise of a morning after having been called the first time, the second calling would be the stick. Even throughout my school life I still had to help my Mother with tasks before and after school.
Trevor: When did you move to England and what are the things you miss about Thailand?
Lek: I got married and moved to the south-west of England in June 1986 to a town called Yeovil in Somerset. Of course mostly I miss the convenience of being able to walk out of the door to a morning market and buying whatever delicious treats I would like. Thai markets are very special with lots of wonderful fresh produce and the hive of activity. I still miss the constant sunshine and the day-to-day neighbourly chats that Thai people like to have. Although I still manage to get back to Thailand for a month during the British winter each year.
Trevor: Could you tell us a bit more about the type of service Thai Gourmet provides?
Lek: Basically we bring authentic Thai food right to your home, other private venue or business event. Our specialist team will cook and serve a delicious meal for you in your own kitchen using genuine Thai ingredients and recipes. We can provide anything really from private dinner parties or house parties, to wedding buffets, christenings and corporate entertaining.
Starters served by the Thai Gourmet team
Trevor: How Did The Idea Come About
Lek: We started the concept about 10 years ago now after seeing that people in the Uk had started to sit up and notice Thai food more. There were a few Thai restaurants about, but we knew it would be a while before Thai food could challenge the stranglehold that Chinese and Indian food had on the UK market. Now Thai food is very popular in the UK and all over the world.
Trevor: Yes we in the UK are a funny bunch, but gradually we come out of our shells. For a long period of time we will not try something new and then finally when we do, we find we like it and have it all the time. I must admit that Thai food seems to have the perfect balance of tastes.
Trevor: So why did you go down the home cooking route and not the restaurant route.
Lek: There are a lot of reasons really. Firstly I wanted to provide the ultimate home entertaining experience and let people have great authentic Thai food in their own home with their own choice of company. I wanted the food to be totally authentic Thai and exactly as they would be presented in Thailand. The amount of times I have been in to Thai restaurants where they have taken the short cut with dishes is endless and the dishes are usually expensive. I wanted to maintain a constant rapport with the guests, by cooking and helping pass around the dishes, creating a more personal experience. I wanted to provide an outlet whereby people could still enjoy an evening relaxing without the worry of searching for baby sitters. If I am in a restaurant kitchen I will never see anyone, but just hear the words ”pass on our regards to the chef please”. Finally I wanted to keep my freedom and flexibility and that is something else I could never do in a restaurant.
Hen nights a Thai Gourmet speciality
Trevor: What does the client need to do at the event?
The only thing the client should worry about is laying the table and dressing for the occasion after that just leave it to us. The idea was formed so that the host at special occasions could relax and enjoy the evening with their guests and let us take care of the rest. You should not lift a finger, we even do the washing up and leave the kitchen spotless. So often at special events you see the host rushing around the whole time trying to please everyone, without having time to relax and enjoy the event themselves.
Trevor: Where are you based and how far do you travel to do your events?
We are based in the south-west of England in Yeovil, Somerset, but how far we go depends on the event, menu selected and the number of guests attending. Thai Gourmet have up to now been to Devon, Cornwall, Dorset. Avon, Wiltshire, Glouster, Hampshire and even London
Trevor: What type of menus do you offer?
Lek: Our menu range even if I do say it myself is extensive. We have Thai finger food menus for large-scale events with little or no sit down facilities which are massively popular, superb Thai buffets, Popular main sit down menus and you can choose from our a la carte open menus. Finally we have probably the greatest Thai vegetarian menus ever put together for set meals and again a la carte open choice.
Khun Lek’s delicious home-made spring rolls
Kanompang Na Moo (spicy pork, garlic & toasted delights)
Trevor: The Walk and Talk menu appears to be hugely popular and what a great name?
Lek: The Thai Gourmet ”Walk and Talk” menus are exceptionally popular and it is a concept which has worked fantastic over the years. The idea was formed allowing the guests to enjoy tasty quality Thai finger food whilst still walking and talking to people at events. Conversations could still go ahead with a tasty Thai bite in one hand and a glass in the other. Guests love the freedom of this and it is a nice alternative to the formal seated table arrangement. The” Walk and Talk” menus are especially suited to large-scale events with many attenders and little or no sit down facilities. The name came from a friend who is a poet and author, so he loves to rhyme things and we thought it was rather appropriate and hence became the well-known name. We really enjoy it when people ring in and say can I book a ” Walk and Talk” please for such and such a date. In part two of this interview I will be giving details to new ” Walk and Talk” menus to be placed on the website.
Khun Lek serving at a ”walk and talk event”
Trevor: Does anyone else in your area do what you do?
Lek: I think there are a couple, but being the pioneers with the range of menus and good will created has served us very well. Anyway I must state that to run this operation properly takes an awful lot of work and thought, you do not just arrive and cook. It is all about building brick by brick, you have to be in it for the long haul and most fall by the wayside, where that is concerned.
Trevor: Which part of your work gives you the most satisfaction?
I enjoy all aspects of my work, but if I had to choose one it would be to see people at special occasions with happy, smiling faces enjoying themselves and the food,plus knowing the Thai Gourmet team helped to make it such a memorable occasion for them. I think it is a natural human trait to want to see and make people happy.
Trevor: Have there been any famous people at the events you have done?
Lek: As far as I am concerned they are all famous people, but we have stumbled upon a couple of celebrities. We prepared a meal in a clients house where Laurence Llewelyn Bowen was a guest and we have seen and met Martin Clunes on a few occasions at different events arranged by friends. It was quite funny the first time, we were at an event serving traditional Thai Chicken Green Curry about 3 years ago when Martin Clunes walked in for his serving. I had not realised it was him being too busy serving at the time. Our sous chef who could not speak English very well at the time and was from Chiang Rai in the North of Thailand said there is Doctor Martin. I did not know what she was talking about at first and could not understand how she knew the Doctor of this place. Finally the penny dropped and I realised after seeing Martin Clunes what she was talking about. Apparently even her sister in Thailand is a big fan of the show.
Trevor: Yes the Doctor Martin show was massively successful and I also enjoy the Reggie Perrin series.
Khun Lek and sous chef Khun Nong Yao with Martin Clunes
Khun Lek and the late Thai Gourmet sous chef Khun Nara with Laurence Llewelyn Bowen
Trevor: In part two we will get right down to the nitty-gritty and take a look at the type of dishes Khun Lek prepares and cooks, a preview of some new menus coming and a couple of recent events. In the mean time how does someone get hold of you if they want to book you and your team.
Lek: You can visit our main site at www.engagingthailand.com and click on Thai catering which takes you to the food section of the site as the site is Thailand travel information based as well. Other than that you can go straight to the food at www.thaigourmetfoodcaterers.co.uk and email or telephone us.