A pair of oil industry veterans deciding to open a restaurant after retiring might not seem like a far-fetched idea, but for Chok and Sumalee Noibanchong it was a decision taken far from home.
During his career as an earth scientist for Chevron, Chok travelled the passion: cooking and sharing the food of their native Thailand, a move equivalent to a Louisiana native settling down and opening a gumbo and jambalaya joint in Bangkok.
“We travelled around the world and did research on Thai and western foods,” Chok says. The couple’s passion for cooking native Thai specialties came naturally, as Chok’s grandmother cooked for the Thai royal family, and Sumalee’s mother was a chef for one of Bangkok’s five-star hotels. “So we have the recipes—the authentic recipes—passed along to us.”
Sumalee’s Bangkok culinary resources aren’t limited to her mother’s experience as a chef; she completed a Thai cooking training program there. Her experience and resources combine with Chok’s to make unique cuisine that stands out in a fairly competitive northshore Thai food market.
“What we like to do is not a business—we want to do it like art. The real homemade Thai food,” Chok notes.
“Our Pad Thai is totally different than the others,” says Sumalee of the Thai noodle-based dish. “I got this recipe from my mother. Of all the dishes we have on the menu, I think it’s the best we can cook.” Thai food has a reputation as a fiery cuisine, but what stands out for Sala Thai are the fresh spices and herbs used in their dishes—lemongrass, galangal, ginger and key lime leaves round out the heat in the curry dishes they serve.
Thai food novices take note: Sala Thai now offers a lunch buffet, which started as a better way to serve the busy and often time-pressed downtown Covington business people and the courthouse crowd. It’s also been a great way, Sumalee says, for people to become familiar with Thai dishes.
“They don’t want to try other dishes because they don’t know what they’re going to get. The buffet is a better way. You can come and taste a little bit of each thing, and every day we change the menu.”
Sala Thai is located at 315 N. Vermont St. in Covington; (985) 249-6990.Filed under: Culinary Arts, Front Page Feature, Last Bite, May-June 2012