Renowned Chef Nuit Regular has made a name for herself in the culinary world through her authentic Thai cuisine. She and husband Jeff Regular have made a major impact on Toronto’s food scene, opening a number of hot spots in the city, including PAI Northern Thai Kitchen and Kiin. Their restaurants are highly regarded for exceptional food, inviting decor, and warm hospitality.
Chef Nuit has received numerous accolades for her exceptional culinary skills and appeared on a number of popular television shows, including Wall of Chefs, MasterChef Canada and Top Chef Canada. Her award-winning cookbook, Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand is a number one Amazon best seller.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Nuit, who shared her insights on running successful restaurants:
Chef Nuit, you made the decision to leave your career as a nurse in Thailand to open a small curry shack in the small town of Pai, and since have collaborated with partner Jeff Regular, to evolve the concept into an array of experiences across Toronto. What has been the motivation and process driving this evolution and what does the future hold?
Actually, I was still working as a nurse in Thailand when Jeff and I opened The Curry Shack in Pai. I worked as a nurse during the day, and at night, I would cook at The Curry Shack while Jeff ran the front of house. Cooking was just something that I loved to do, and opening The Curry Shack was a way for me to earn some extra income to help out my family.
When I moved to Toronto, I had every intention of continuing my career as a nurse here. But an opportunity came up with Jeff’s family to open a restaurant [Sukhothai] and I decided to help them out in the kitchen as I continued studying to pass my nursing exam here. I finally did pass the nursing exam, but by then, the restaurant had been opened a year and was finally starting to do well. The word-of-mouth had spread about my food and we were getting more customers. I ended up deciding to give up my nursing career at that point and become a chef full-time and here we are today!
As for the future, I’m a constant dreamer, so I have a lot of plans and ideas. We’ve been doing well with our PAI ghost kitchen locations in partnership with Kitchen Hub, and hope to expand on new locations in the GTA in the near future. We reopened Kiin for dinner service last fall, and I’m getting ready to do a café concept during the daytime, serving up traditional Thai breakfast. And I have a new concept opening up in the next couple of months, which I’m very excited about.
Your career has seen incredible growth. What has it been like to experience this journey of a dream come true, and what advice would you give to others? We’d also love to learn more about your cookbook.
It’s incredible! When I started out as a chef, I never thought I’d be where I am today. I’m just very grateful to the people of Toronto for opening their hearts and coming to try my food. It makes me so happy when guests tell me they love my food and that it’s the best Thai food they ever had. My goal was to always bring diners an authentic Thai dining experience that I grew up with in northern Thailand, and share with them a piece of my Thai culture through my cooking. It means a lot to me to have my restaurants consistently be named the Best Thai Restaurant in Toronto, and to be recognized with various awards like the BMO Entrepreneurs Award (WX Network’s 2022 Top 100 Powerful Women in Canada) and the 2022 American Express Award for Business Leadership.
I want to say to others to not be afraid to step into the reality of making their dreams come true. Our dreams may sometimes seems far from reality or it may not always be an easy path to reach, and they may think the risks are greater than they actually are, but it’s important to take the steps to manifest your dream. Believe in yourself and our dream, follow your passion, try your best, and never give up.
Yes, my cookbook, Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand, came out in October 2020 and it has since won 2 awards: the 2021 IACP Cookbook Award and the Taste Canada Gold Award. The book is very personal to me, as it is a collection of my recipes and stories from growing up in Northern Thailand, and we even flew back to Thailand to shoot the photography there. It features a lot of recipes that were passed down to me from my mother and other family members, and it’s a way to share my Thai culture with others.
As a woman in leadership, tell us about your career journey and what you hope to achieve by sharing authentic Thai cooking with the world?
It has been an amazing journey. When I made the transition from nurse to chef and entrepreneur, I didn’t know what to expect, but it has been so fulfilling. I’ve learned so much about the business, and the hospitality industry, and most importantly, about myself during this journey. I’ve continued to grow as a person, and although I’ve been in this business for 15 years now, I’m still learning new things every day.
It has also been so amazing to see the progression of Thai cuisine in Toronto since I started. I remember back in 2008, when I first opened Sukhothai, the knowledge and understanding of Thai cuisine was still pretty limited. I missed so many dishes from home but I couldn’t find any of those dishes—like Khao Soi and real, authentic Pad Gra Prow made with holy basil. I made it my mission to introduce these dishes to Toronto diners and educate them on other Thai dishes, especially ones from the Northern Thai region where I’m from. I also paid a lot more to import specific ingredients from Thailand so that I can recreate the authentic flavours that I grew up with. It was very important for me to use specific ingredients, like holy basil in my Pad Gra Prow, or a certain type of fish sauce. You can really taste the love and care that me and my team put into our food. And I look around at where the Thai food scene is today in Toronto and it’s wonderful to see many other restaurants now feature these dishes that weren’t on the menu back in 2008 and that there are more varieties, and Thai restaurants specializing in their own regions of Thailand. I hope I can continue to be part of that conversation and continue to share and educate people on the wonderful and diverse world of Thai cuisine.
Chef Nuit Regular is an entrepreneur and gifted chef who has transformed and will continue to redefine Thai cuisine in Toronto.
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