As Leeds Thai food staple Sukhothai celebrates 20 years since its opening, Ban Kaewkraikhot, Owner and Head Chef, tells us about her cooking inspiration, love for Leeds, and getting through the pandemic.
When Ban Kaewkraikhot opened Sukhothai back in 2002, she had but one goal: to bring delicious Thai cuisine to Leeds: “I wanted to showcase as much Thai cuisine as I could, so when we opened Sukhothai Chapel Allerton we opened with a vast menu of over 200 dishes. Sukhothai’s ethos has always been the same since day one; offer outstanding, authentic Thai food, with first-class service, in sophisticated and comfortable surroundings. This year Sukhothai Chapel Allerton turns 20 years old since we first opened the doors and brought Thai food to the Chapel Allerton community, we are unbelievably grateful to still be serving our guests and hope to continue to do so for the next 20.”
Since 2002 Sukhothai has expanded to Leeds city centre and Harrogate, bringing the same great food to broader horizons: “Over the years our menu has become much more refined, but still retains many dishes from the original menu in 2002. You’ll find sharing platters, soups, salads, curries, noodles, and so much more. We want to offer our guests variety so they can come back and try something new each time. We also like to keep things fresh by introducing seasonal specials and using local suppliers for our meat and vegetables. We have a large drinks menu which includes Thai-inspired cocktails, Asian beers, and a premium wine list.”
Ban has been immersed in cooking her entire life, so it was only natural that one day she would end up owning one of the most popular food chains in Leeds: “I have very early memories of my mother cooking on our veranda. I grew up in a rural community in Sukhothai and food was a big part of my family life. I remember our house was beside a river and was surrounded by fruit trees and fresh herbs growing wild. It was this food-centred upbringing that gave me my passion for cooking.
“From the age of five, I would help my mother prepare dinner every evening. She would pick lemongrass and chilli from the fields, and I would help prepare fish caught fresh from the river that day. I would always look forward to dinner in the evening as often our neighbours and friends would come to eat with us, and we’d all share things we’d prepared that day.”
As idyllic as Ban’s childhood years in Sukhothai were, she also appreciates Leeds for its food scene: “There are so many fantastic operators in Leeds, and its incredibly diverse food scene means I can try new foods all the time. Over the years in my restaurants, I have been a part of so many birthdays, graduations, engagements, and celebrations. I have seen children grow up into young adults and I’m lucky to call so many of my customers my friends. I will always be eternally grateful to the people of Leeds for their support over the last 20 years. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Like many restaurants, Sukhothai found the pandemic to be a difficult time. While the restaurant was closed, Ban put her time into raising money and cooking meals for those in need. Sukhothai ended up raising over £7000 and cooked meals for St. James Hospital, Leeds General Infirmary, NHS Nightingale, Yorkshire Ambulance, York Hospital, St Gemma’s Hospice, Donisthorpe Hall, schools, care homes, and many more.
Now, Ban is glad to be back, and grateful for the support her restaurants received from customers throughout the pandemic: “To be honest I’m just happy to have our restaurants open and doing what we do best; cooking for our fantastic customers. The support from our customers throughout COVID has been really amazing. We’ve received so many heartfelt messages, people are really happy we’re back open again. Hopefully things can now start to get back to normal and we can start looking to the future. I just want to say a big thank you to everyone for their support over the past two years, it’s really what has kept us going.”
To book a table visit Sukhothai.co.uk
Or follow them on twitter and instagram @sukhothai_ or facebook @SukhothaiRestaurants