Nuit Regular, one of Toronto’s most widely recognized chefs, has changed the way people think about Thai food
In any discussion of Toronto’s Thai food scene, it’d be hard not to include chef Nuit Regular. She’s co-owner and executive chef of PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, Kiin, Sabai Sabai, SukhoThai (at least one of these makes an appearance on many best-of lists at any given time). She’s won awards, including the government of Thailand’s prestigious Thai Select Signature designation for authenticity in three of her restaurants, and is a judge on Food Network Canada’s “Wall of Chefs.” Even a global pandemic didn’t slow her down. Since October 2020, she published a cookbook and created meal kits of her most-loved dishes. And while many restaurants were closing, she opened a new one.
A pretty impressive CV, considering she admits cooking was not exactly a passion of hers while growing up in Pai in Northern Thailand, something she still laughs about. “I hated cooking when I was a child,” she says. But she was expected to help in the kitchen, so she learned how to prepare her mother’s dishes.
To earn extra money, Nuit would sneak homemade snacks into high school to sell to students. Soon, she was employing a few pals to hawk her pad Thai to other classmates. This was just a side hustle, she thought. What she really wanted to do was help people, so after high school she studied nursing.
In 2001, Torontonian Jeff Regular set out on a backpacking adventure to Thailand, where he met Nuit sitting in front of him on an elephant. Jeff soon fell in love with her — and her cooking. They opened a small restaurant, the Curry Shack, where Nuit spent her evenings cooking after working as a nurse during the day. When customers praised her for her food, Nuit says it started making her feel as personally satisfied as being a nurse did.
In 2006, they moved to Toronto, where Nuit learned English and studied to get her nursing accreditation. At the same time, Jeff’s dad owned a building and he was interested in adding a restaurant, so he approached Nuit. She saw a void in Thai restaurants here (some restaurants were using ketchup in pad Thai, instead of hard-to-find tamarind paste). And so SukhoThai opened, filling the gap by offering the food that Nuit knew from her own mom’s kitchen: garlic shrimp, curries and pad Thai. From there, the Regulars secured a hold on Toronto’s Thai food scene, with Nuit handling the menu and Jeff running the service and hospitality end.
Even the pandemic provided an opportunity for Nuit. She created ChefDrop, meal kits prepped with all the ingredients of Nuit’s most popular dishes, such as pad Thai and red curry chicken. Last November, during lockdown, the Regulars opened PAI Uptown, which quickly became a popular takeout spot, with a marketplace offering Thai ingredients.
What’s next? The Regulars are looking at opportunities in catering and private events, cooking at food hubs and offering their classics from food trucks in the GTA and beyond. And they are considering buying a factory in Thailand to make their own products to sell here.
It’s a success story that almost didn’t happen. After Nuit appeared on “Wall of Chefs” last fall, Auburn Lane, a popular women’s-lifestyle digital magazine, reminded readers that, back in the mid-’00s, authentic Thai food in the city was not so widely available, or sought after. “There wasn’t a huge appetite back when the first SukhoThai opened,” the article said. “Distinguishing (Nuit’s) flavours of authenticity and tradition were key components to her dishes, which proved so unfamiliar to her guests in the early stages that the restaurant almost didn’t survive.”
It did survive, in fact it thrived, and a local Thai food empire was born. “I love everything that Toronto offered me,” Nuit says. “Torontonians love Thai and that allowed me to showcase my food.”