Chef’s Corner: Nutcha Phanthoupheng, Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine, Vancouver

Chef Nutcha Phanthoupheng of Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine

By Nicole Di Tomasso

Born in the countryside region of Isaan (Northeast Thailand), Nutcha Phanthoupheng was raised living the authentic farm-to-table dining experience at home. 

“My love for food was inspired from a very young age,” she says. “Growing up, I learned to fish and forage for mushrooms, wild honey, insects and even lizards. [Every] evening, my family and I would come together to prepare meals using the fresh, natural and organic ingredients we had gathered. This experience, being at my mother’s elbow and acting as her ‘sous chef,’ truly ignited my passion for traditional Thai cuisine. The rich, aromatic flavours and the communal joy of cooking became a fundamental part of my identity.”

Prior to entering the restaurant industry, Phanthoupheng was a registered nurse and learned about the impact of food on health. Eventually, she obtained her MBA and became a cancer researcher at Princess Chulabhorn Hospital in Bangkok. 

Upon moving to Vancouver in 2014, Phanthoupheng missed the authentic Thai food that she grew up with and pursued a career as a professional chef. She returned to Thailand and enrolled in private courses with Michelin-starred chefs Chumpol Jangprai (R-HAAN) and Vichit Mukura (Khao). 

Over the years, Phanthoupheng has earned her Thai Cuisine diploma from The Blue Elephant in Bangkok; certification from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok Cooking School and the MSC Thai Culinary School; and carving certificate from Bussaracum Royal Thai Cuisine. 

“My culinary style is deeply rooted in Royal Thai cuisine, but I aim to bring traditional family recipes into a modern fine-dining setting,” she says. “This involves adhering to the exquisite rules and plating techniques of Royal Thai cuisine while incorporating my own creative flair and contemporary ideas.”

In February 2021, Phanthoupheng opened Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine in Steveston, B.C. 

“At Baan Lao, meaning ‘our home,’ we believe in the superior taste of fresh, organic, and natural ingredients,” she says. “Understanding the origin of our food and respecting the environment are crucial to us. Service and atmosphere are as important to us as the food itself.”

Phanthoupheng’s signature dinner-experience menu, From the Fields of Thailand to the Shores of Canada, chronicles her life journey and includes familiar protein sources from her childhood. Priced at $290 per person, standout dishes include Phat Thai King Mang Kon (Lobster Phat Thai); Kaeng Matsaman Nuea Kwai (Water Buffalo Tenderloin Massaman Curry); and Wan Wan Kanom Hwan Chef Nutcha (Chef Nutcha’s Childhood Memories).

In just three years, Baan Lao has been named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants and featured on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list in 2022. It also received the Thai Select Signature certification, the highest honour from the Ministry of Commerce for the Royal Thai Government. In November 2022, Phanthoupheng became the first Thai chef in Canada to be named Maître Rôtisseur by La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. Locally, she has been voted Best Chef in Vancouver for three consecutive years in the Golden Plates Awards. Baan Lao has won six awards each year, including Best Restaurant Overall, Best Fine Dining, Best Hidden Gem, Most Romantic and Best Thai. 

“I aim to ensure the continued success of Baan Lao and my amazing team,” she says. “Personally, I want to keep elevating Thai cuisine in Canada and North America. I have some exciting plans in the works, which I look forward to sharing as they develop.”

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