By Jeremiah S. Papineau
PLATTSBURGH - Sawatdee, the city's only authentic Thai and vegetarian restaurant, has a new face in the kitchen.
Tong Chanachai joined the staff nearly two months ago, bringing his culinary background of more than six years to downtown Plattsburgh. Chanachai said his passion for creating dishes aimed to tantalize the taste buds dates back to when he was a child.
"I liked to watch my mom cooking for me," said Chanachai. "That's why I decided to be a chef."
Chanachai's first experience as a chef was one he didn't see coming. He was working as a dishwasher and prep cook at a Thai and vegetarian restaurant on the West Coast. One day, the chef scheduled to work called in sick, leading the head chef to give Chanachai a crash course in cooking dishes on the restaurant's menu.
Chanachai did so well, in two weeks, he was promoted to a chef.
"They found somebody else to be the dishwasher," Chanachai said, smiling.
Chanachai stayed in California three years before heading to the East Coast and working with a friend who opened a restaurant in St. Albans, Vt. Most recently, Chanachai worked as a chef at Bangkok Bistro in Burlington, Vt.
When he learned Sawatdee was in need of a chef, Chanachai made the short trip across Lake Champlain to take on his next culinary challenge.
"I like it here," said Chanachai, who said he likes the somewhat slower pace of Plattsburgh compared to cities on the West Coast like Beverly Hills and even Burlington, here closer to home.
Chanachai said he enjoys creating dishes for the Sawatdee menu like Pad Thai - stir-fried Thai rice noodles served with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp or tofu and egg, bean sprout, ground peanut and a wedge of lime - and Pad Kee Mao - spicier stir-fried flat noodles blended with onions, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, basil and garlic - also known as "Drunken Noodle."
However, Chanachai said his favorite dish to prepare is Sawatdee's Spicy Basil Duck, which is duck marinated and lightly sauteed in spicy basil sauce with red and green bell peppers, onions, carrots and mushrooms, topped with crispy basil.
"I like the way the duck tastes in its homemade sauce. It's very good," said Chanachai. "A lot of people here order it."
One day, Chanachai said he might open his own restaurant, but for now, he said he enjoys being a part of the Sawatdee family, sharing his culinary passion with the restaurant's patrons.
Sawatdee is located downtown at 15 Bridge St. and is open for lunch Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The restaurant is open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 8 p.m.