Virtual food festivals highlighting Thai food and culture // 2020–2021
Building on Turnstile’s experience with food-focused tours and virtual programming, we were engaged by marketing and communications agency ELMNTL on behalf of Thai Select USA to produce two series of online programs about Thai cuisine and culture. Produced during the height of the pandemic in the fall of 2020, the first series “Thai Food in America,” featured certified Thai Select restaurants from across the US with tutorials on Thai ingredients and cooking techniques and live cooking demos from 11 different restaurants across six hour-long virtual programs, including a live broadcast from Thailand. The second series in the summer of 2021, “Passport to the Northeast,” engaged not just restaurants in the Northeast region, but food suppliers, tour guides, and scholars to explore topics related to Thai foodways, diaspora communities, language, and culture. The series also included an interactive map of more than 100 certified restaurants and Thai business and cultural sites stretching from North Carolina to New England.
For the final installment of this Thai food and culture series, we will travel virtually to Thailand and learn some basic Thai phrases to help us get around. Titcha Ho, a PhD candidate and lecturer at the University at Albany and professional tutor and language consultant, will give us a basic introduction to the Thai language. Then we will experience a live cooking demonstration from the Bangkok location of Somtum Der, a highly-acclaimed global restaurant group with two locations in New York City. Somtum Der CEO Tatchai Nakapan will also join to share how his restaurants have brought Isan (northeastern Thailand) cuisine to a global audience, from Bangkok to Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City to Brooklyn!
Food is all about family and community, and Queens not only boasts some of the best Thai restaurants in New York City, but is also home to the largest Thai enclave in the northeast. On this virtual program, we will explore the neighborhood of Elmhurst with author, tour guide, local resident, and culinary consultant Joe DiStefano, who will join us live from Queens and highlight landmarks of the Thai community. We will also stop in to Sabay Thai to chat with Chef Busaya to learn about her upbringing in Northern Thailand and see what she’s cooking up in the kitchen. And we will head to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, where Chef Tan will share dishes inspired by his mother at the family-owned Wanisa Home Kitchen.
How have Americans’ perceptions of Thai food and culture changed over time? And how have these perceptions affected what’s on the menu? We will tackle these questions with Mark Padoongpatt, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Asian and Asian American Studies at University of Nevada Las Vegas and author of Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America, who will share how Thai immigrants have navigated food systems to recreate the “yum” of their homeland. We’ll then head to the Baltimore-Washington area for interviews and cooking demos with two long-time Thai favorites that both feature diverse menus and incorporate a range of cultural influences. We’ll be joined by Chef Aulie Bunyarataphan and Mel Oursinsiri, the husband and wife team behind Bangkok Joe’s in Georgetown, who will share their story and how their concept came to include Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and French flavors alongside traditional Bangkok cuisine. Then we’ll visit with restauranteur Sireenuch Tengamnuary, owner for longtime Baltimore restaurant Thai Landing, and we’ll check in on her new restaurant, Towson, MD’s Absolute Thai-Sushi, where a Japanese sushi menu complements a wide range of Thai specialities.
On this virtual program, we will follow traditional Thai ingredients as they travel 12,000 miles from farms and factories to restaurants, shops, and take-out meals in New York City. We will get an insider’s view of this supply chain by visiting Vasinee Food Corp, a food importer and distributor in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Started over 30 years ago in a tiny warehouse in Manhattan’s Chinatown, today Vasinee is one of the largest distributors of Thai food products in the region. We will not only see products that they have in their warehouse, but how they prepare meals with these ingredients for their staff eats every day at their company lunch. We will also go live to 3 Aunties Food Market, a grocery store in Woodside, Queens that specializes in Thai products and prepared foods, to learn more about these unique ingredients and how to use them in your own cooking at home.
For our final episode of this series, we will meet two chefs who are using the traditions of Thai cuisine as a springboard for culinary innovation. On the West Coast (with locations in San Francisco, Oakland, and Portland), Chef Kasem “Pop” Saengsawang has built his Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine concept, where he creates new dishes based off of his childhood growing up in Thailand’s Northeast. And from Brooklyn, Chef Suchanan Aksornnan (aka Chef Bao Bao) brings her fine dining background to create Thai fusion in a relaxed approachable setting at Baoburg. These chefs represent a new generation that is exploring exciting new possibilities in Thai cuisine, and we’ll discuss with them what they see for the future of Thai cuisine in America and across the world.
Although popular Thai dishes such as papaya salad and sticky rice are consumed by millions of Americans, few know its origins are from the Isan and Northeastern region of Thailand. There are so many differences between Thai regional cuisine. In this mouthwatering program, we will focus on this region’s culinary traditions to learn about what makes it unique and the dishes to look out for. Bright spicy and sour salads, grilled meats, sticky rice, and lots of chili peppers are just some of the building blocks of Isan cuisine, and we are excited to feature two chefs from the region. We will learn about the famous Som Tam (or papaya salad) from Chef Kulsatree Noree, who owns Amazing Thailand Uptown in Minneapolis, and we will pay a visit to Chef Warunee Mouthapong, who owns Miami’s Siam Bistro and will be preparing spicy salad made of curried rice – as a special treat, Chef Warunee will be joining us directly from Thailand!
The core of Thai cuisine is selecting ingredients that balance flavors – sweet, spicy, sour, and salty. Thanks to the growth in popularity of Thai food in the United States, many staple ingredients are readily available, either imported from Thailand or produced locally. On this program we’ll learn from top chefs about how they obtain the best ingredients for Thai cooking, and we’ll explore the international and domestic supply chains that support Thai chefs and home cooks alike. Our guest will be Chef Terrawong “Yo” Nanthavatsiri from New York City’s Pinto Garden, who sources local, seasonal ingredients to create his innovative takes on traditional dishes, and he will show us how to make a delicious and refreshing seasonal salad.
Chefs at Thai restaurants across the United States are inspired by the geography, climate, and ingredients from their native towns and regions, from the cool valleys and mountains of Northern Thailand to the tropical seas of the South. This virtual program will welcome chefs who are originally from both the South and North of Thailand and will explore the similarities and differences between these two regional cuisines. We will be joined by Chef Patty Neumson from Chicago’s renowned restaurant Herb, who will cook a dish that is typical to Southern Thailand where she learned to cook with her mother and grandmother. We’ll also go live to Manhattan’s A Plus Thai Place, where Chefs Sanun Nakapat and Aura Piyada have introduced New Yorkers to Sukothai Noodles, a popular dish from their hometown in Northern Thailand. Meet these three amazing chefs, learn about Thai regional flavors and ingredients, and see them cook some of their favorite dishes.
Learn about the history of Thai immigration to the United States and where Thai communities and Thai food destinations have popped up across the country. Some restaurants have appeared in neighborhoods to serve the Thai community – places like Elmhurst, Queens and Los Angeles’ Thai Town – while other restaurants have set up shop where very few Thai people live, taking on the challenge of educating diners about their cuisine. Join us for interviews and a cooking demonstration with Chef Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong, who cooks spicy Southern Thai cuisine at Jitlada in the heart of LA’s Thai Town, and Chef Dee Buizer, who prepares upscale Thai food for an eager new audience at Senae Thai Bistro in Tucson, Arizona.