It’s not every day that someone says to Red Seal Chef Kitti Wisesputti, “Cook for me like your grandmother cooked for you.” But Chef “Ti” happily obliged when the owner of Niagara’s Finest Hotels made the request. Now Chef Ti cooks the same way for locals and tourists alike at Niagara’s Finest Thai in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Since opening last year, he and manager Nic McCabe have watched the Queen’s Parade restaurant climb the Trip Advisor ranks. It’s thanks to an earnest dedication to cooking Thai food the way it was meant to be done: from scratch, full of flavour, and without taking shortcuts to get it on the plate. The restaurant even has the Thai Select Premium certification to prove it. Think of it as a Michelin Star for Thai restaurants. It guarantees that at least 85 per cent of what’s on the menu is authentic Thai cuisine.
Soon Chef Ti and crew will add a private dining room with family style menu to complement the main dining options. They promise it will be unlike anything offered by other Thai eateries in the region.
Niagara Culinary Tours caught up with Chef Ti and Nic to learn more about how Niagara’s Finest Thai has quickly become a dining destination in the region.
How did Niagara’s Finest Thai come to be?
Nic: The restaurant idea was from our ownership in Hong Kong because he’s very passionate about food and he’s travelled a lot in Southeast Asia. He really adores Thai food. He loves the spice, he loves the simple, down-home aspect of it, the ingredients. He’s very passionate about that and posed the idea to our executive committee and they loved it. It’s such a unique style of food in Niagara-on-the-Lake and that’s what we’ve tried to do every step of the way — make sure we’re doing it a little different than everyone next door and everyone down the road.
What is authentic Thai cooking?
Chef Ti: The way we cook it, the style we cook it. We use a wok; we use stir-fry techniques. We do a lot of curry paste. We do sauce — our peanut sauce right from scratch. So that’s how we can say all the preparation, the way we cut vegetables, the way we pick the vegetables, the way we cut chicken and beef, the way we pick the proteins, that’s according to Thai cooking.
Where do you draw your culinary inspiration from?
Chef Ti: I started cooking when I was eight years old with my grandma. When I cooked in Thailand at that time, we didn’t have coconut in a can. We didn’t have curry sauce in a can. We did everything from scratch. We put chilli, we put galangal, we put garlic in the mortar and we kept hitting it until it becomes a paste. I had to climb up the coconut tree, get the mature coconuts, peel them up, break them apart to make coconut milk. That’s how I learned. That’s how I know the recipes really well.
So really, when you’re in the kitchen, you’re channelling your grandmother.
Chef Ti: For here, exactly. What I did is based on what the owner wanted. He wanted the food my grandmother cooked for me. Anything I make has to be according to those customs.
For someone who hasn’t been here before, what should they order to get the full Niagara’s Finest Thai experience?
Nic: They’re going to want to start with spring rolls. Chef wraps all of them by hand. I remember our first few nights we were open, he was here until well after midnight wrapping spring rolls because we were so busy. That’s really indicative of Chef Ti’s flavour and it’s a great appetizer. We also have chicken satays, all house cut and marinated with our peanut sauce; a nice little spicy cucumber salad. If you want to get the full flavour of everything we offer, you might want to share with friends the signature Pad Thai. You’d want to try at least one of the curries. Green or Penang would be my recommendation. And then either the spicy basil or cashew nut, and then whole fish, either the garlic or the umami, which is a really great dish. There’s a lot of different flavours in every bite. You’ll want to finish with both of our desserts. Our banana fritters, they’re to die for. You’ll want to top that with coconut ice cream. We also have sticky rice with overripe mango. It is the sweetest mango you’ll ever have. If you dipped it in sugar it couldn’t get any sweeter. It’s beautiful but it’s seasonal.
Anything to look forward to in the coming months?
Che Ti: I’m working on new items for the menu… So we’re going to do shrimp rolls. That’s coming out next and herbal fish delight. It’s going to use basa fish fillets and flour, and (be) deep-fried to provide crispiness. Then we top it with homemade sauce with ginger, lemongrass, red onions, coriander, green onions, and cashew mixed together.
Nic: It melts in your mouth.
Chef Ti: And we’ll do it fresh as the customer orders it. I’m not deep-frying 10 pieces of fish at once. You order, that’s when the fish hits the pan.
Written by Tiffany Mayer
Check out Tiffany’s latest endeavour. Grub by Eating Niagara is a food blog and podcast written and produced by Tiffany Mayer. Recipes, food stories, sound waves. That’s what it’s all about.
Niagara’s Finest Hotels is hosting, Corks and Forks with a Twist, Five Talented chefs in one location with proceeds benefiting Red Roof Retreat, A Niagara charity serving children and young adults with special needs. Call 1-905-468-5715 to purchase tickets!