From Grandma’s Thai kitchen

Fresh, sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents en­hance the flavour of Saan’s au­then­tic Thai cui­sine.

Good - - GOOD LOCAL - Words Carolyn Ent­ing. Pho­tog­ra­phy Cam McLaren

W alk­ing home from school in Thai­land as a child, Wichian ‘Lek’ Tri­rat­tana­vatin had one thing on his mind – what was he go­ing to eat? He “couldn’t wait to get back home” for his grand­mother Anong’s cook­ing, and he cred­its her as the main in­spi­ra­tion for the dishes on the menu at Saan Restau­rant in Pon­sonby, Auck­land.

To­day he’s head chef at Saan and ful­fill­ing his dream of serv­ing his grandma’s recipes in his own restau­rant, thanks to the back­ing of Kr­ishna Bot­ica and Tony McGe­orge of Café Hanoi (where Lek was pre­vi­ously se­nior chef).

Saan show­cases de­li­cious, au­then­tic Thai dishes that have been passed down through the fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions and tran­scend Kiwi/Thai sta­ples curry puffs and green chicken curry. It’s cui­sine he de­scribes as “sim­ple and flavour­some”.

Lek ad­mits he was a fussy eater be­fore go­ing to live with his grandma who had a restau­rant in the vil­lage. She taught him how to for­age for herbs and the fresh­est in­gre­di­ents, to use the whole an­i­mal, to cook, and even how to make the pot­tery serv­ing dishes. There­fore it was im­por­tant to him that the beau­ti­ful pot­tery plates at Saan are hand­made by ar­ti­san ce­ramic mak­ers in Thai­land.

Lek is com­mit­ted to serv­ing the best in­gre­di­ents too. He im­ports or­ganic brown rice from Thai­land be­cause it tastes bet­ter and sup­ports farm­ers back home. Lo­cally, he’s be­gun us­ing Te Mana lamb bred in New Zealand high coun­try, finely mar­bled and rich in nat­u­rally polyun­sat­u­rated and omega-3 fats. It’s the hero in­gre­di­ent of Lek’s per­sonal favourite dish on Saan’s new menu – Mus­saman Gae, Lek’s spin on the clas­sic Thai Mus­saman curry.

His food phi­los­o­phy is sim­ple – it’s his grand­mother’s method and tech­nique. Even though he was for­mally trained as a chef at the pres­ti­gious Dusit Thani Palace Col­lege (now Le Cor­don Bleu Dusit) he “learned more from my grandma” and it’s the cook­ing legacy handed down through his fam­ily that makes his cook­ing and the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at Saan truly spe­cial. Eighty per cent of the recipes on the menu come from his grand­mother or par­ents (who are also both chefs) and of­fer­ings in­clude some “not too spicy but tasty” royal cui­sine too. His great-grand­mother cooked for the royal court in Laos, hence the name Saan, which means ‘handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion’ or ‘to weave’.

“I feel as if I’m invit­ing peo­ple into my own home,” says Lek.

Saan, 160 Pon­sonby Rd, Auck­land. 09 320 4237. Open­ing hours Satur­day to Tues­day 5pm to late, Wed­nes­day to Fri­day 12pm to late, and brunch from 11am Satur­day and Sun­day.

Far right: Grilled mar­ket fish on per­illa leaves. Above: wok-seared squid.

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