What is Thai Food?
For most old-time Vermonters that’s a darn good question! Back “in the day” many Vermonters would think of Thai recipes as something near India or China. I kid you not. Many of us can remember a time when there were few to no Chinese restaurants in Vermont. If you wanted Chinese, everyone would jump in the car and drive to Sherbrooke or Montreal. It was quite a big thing back in the 1980’s.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that Thai cuisine started appearing in Vermont. I may be wrong but perhaps the first Thai establishment was Parima in Burlington, which has long since closed. After that, many Thai restaurants started showing up in one form or another, starting as authentic but quickly reverting to “Americanized Thai”. Like Chinese food, Thai food had been changed to accommodate the less spicy, American palate.
Authentic Thai food in Vermont…finally
Then in 2012, something happened. Tanyalak “Kae” Alexander decided to start selling authentic Thai recipes in front of her house, in Shelburne, while a huge event took place across the road at Shelburne Museum. It wasn’t long before she became incredibly busy with 3 woks cooking at once. The front yard was soon filled with happy people delightfully wondering what this new, spicy food with odd looking peppers and spices was.
Kae, trained as a chef in her native Thailand, didn’t know much about “Americanized” Thai food and her one brief encounter with it resulted in a complaint to the Thai restaurant owner who merely said “Most American people don’t care about real Thai. For some it’s too hot. Better for us because we can use cheaper ingredients. Everybody happy!” But Kae wasn’t and decided to get back to basics and offer real, authentic Thai recipes for people living in Vermont. Her front yard, impromptu Thai dining adventure quickly caught the interest of a food editor at Seven Days, a local newspaper, resulting in an interview about her truly unique food and vision.
Raising the bar…
From there, she decide to open a catering business which rapidly morphed into more of a take-out business. Ultimately, Kae opened a Thai restaurant in Milton, VT, which seemed to be one of the most unlikely locations in the Burlington area. Fortunately, many of her happy Shelburne customers followed her to Milton and she started to build a fan base of people who would make the drive from all around Vermont. This would often result in a busy weekend but week days were a bit lackluster due to the local preference for American style food.
Currently, Kae is still searching for a smaller cafe type restaurant a bit close to Burlington, where ethnic food is a bit more common place. In the meantime, she continues to offer group Thai cooking classes both in person and via Thai cooking online courses. Bottom line is don’t count her out yet! When she opens her next venue, it will shake up the Thai food scene once again.
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