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A feast fit for the family

Cover Story

July 19, 2020

Story By: Nicole Monton | Photos by: TONY GRILLO

Chef Chai Chaowasaree and sister Joy Chaowasaree invite the public to try Chef Chai’s seven-course childhood favorites menu, available through July 24.

Chef Chai at Pacifica is celebrating its seventh anniversary in the tastiest way possible, with a seven-course meal featuring dishes from chef Chai Chaowasaree’s childhood growing up in Bangkok. Available July 17-24, the extravagant feast is the perfect family-style feast whether dining in ($70 per person) or ordering takeout (20 percent discount).

“These seven dishes are the most popular dishes in Thai cuisine,” Chaowasaree explains. “The food we serve at Chef Chai is not Thai; it’s more fusion. But what we are doing now is bringing you back for one week to the food that I grew up with.”

Chaowasaree has presented these home-cooked kid-time favorites to royalty — literally! — and the famous chef himself will be preparing all the course meals.

“We’ve served it to the princess of Thailand, prime minister of Thailand, and the king and queen of Malaysia when they came to Hawaii,” he recalls.

Pra Lad Pik

He’s even cooked for the likes of Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach, who featured one of Chaowasaree’s restaurant on the show.

Chaowasaree grew up in Bangkok and moved to Hawaii in his early 20s, opening his first restaurant here locally more than three decades ago. And now, his most recent venture, Chef Chai at Pacifica, has quickly become the hotspot for date nights, family gatherings, celebrations and more.

Starting off the seven-course menu at the Honolulu eatery is Kai Satay (aka Chicken Satay), which comes standard on many a Thai menu. What sets this dish apart, though, is the sauce, which Chaowasaree is quite proud of.

“We make it the way they do in Thailand, and everyone agrees that we have the best peanut sauce in town,” he says.

Khao Neou Mamoung

Another crowd favorite is Po Pia Tod, better known as Crispy Thai Spring Rolls. While each restaurant does its spring rolls a little differently, Chef Chai adds in more flavors for a robust filling that includes shrimp, ground pork, mushrooms, onions, fresh garden lettuce and long rice.

Som Tum — also known as Shredded Green Papaya Salad — is also another staple on Thai restaurant menus.

“Each chef uses a different technique,” explains Chaowasaree, who grew up in the restaurant industry in Thailand. “Som tum is a street food, and I would watch how street vendors made it. Then, I would go home and practice.”

He learned how to make this dish when he was just 10 years old, and will serve this personal decades-old classic to guests.

Before the main dish, Chaowasaree will be serving up Tom Kah Kai (creamy lemongrass soup with chicken, mushrooms and coconut milk), which, he says, balances out the flavors and textures of the seven-course menu.

Now, for the signature entrée. Pra Lad Pik — the Crispy Whole Snapper — is prepared one of two ways, and guests can choose their blend upon ordering. First is the chili ginger sauce with scallions, and the second is a spicy Thai chili lime sauce (Chaowasaree’s mom’s secret recipe).

Chef Chai Chaowasaree with sisters Joy Chaowasaree and Niki Garcia, and mother Chun SaeChueng. Photo courtesy Chai Chaowasaree

A famous noodle dish preparation, the Pad Thai Koong comes with shrimp, chicken, tofu, bean sprouts, chives and chopped peanuts — all mixed together just the way Chaowasaree’s mom used to make it.

“We make this exactly how I grew up,” he adds. “Pad Thai noodles has its own unique flavor, and we put tamarind, vinegar, fish sauce, chili fakes and more. Most Thai dishes have sweet, salty and acidity, and you can taste so many things in one bite.”

No multi-course meal would be complete without a succulent dessert, and the Khao Neou Mamoung is the perfect option to end things on a sweet note. A popular dish during mango season, the Thai Sticky Rice with coconut milk and sweet mango is a classic that blends creamy textures with bursts of bold fruit. At Chef Chai, Chaowasaree will be using local mangoes from Makaha, which have proven to be the best of the best.

There’s still time to try Chef Chai’s childhood favorites feast, and those wanting to dine-in at the luxurious location along Kapiolani Boulevard must call in to reserve their seats, and preorders are required for takeout.

“Enjoy seven different dishes in one night,” Chaowasaree adds. “I will personally prepare all the (course) meals.”

While Chef Chai’s seven-course family-style dinner of childhood favorites is the highlight of the July 17-24 week, fans of the Asian fusion restaurant can still order off the regular menu, too. All takeout orders are 20 percent off for the time being — call ahead to verify hours.

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