Queues still crowd the footpath outside Sydney’s favourite Thai restaurant Spice I Am. Before opening in 2004, Sydneysiders were used to a more westernised version of Thai cooking; milder chilli, overloaded with sugar and drowning in tinned coconut milk. Introducing authentic Thai cuisine that won the praise of local Thais and expats, Sujet Saekhnam soon had the rest of the Harbour City hooked too.
A Thai kingdom where flavour is king
Four more restaurants opened but now Sujet is happy to concentrate on the original Wentworth Avenue hole-in-the-wall diner on Thai Town’s edge. While his recipes stay faithful to his Northern Thai heritage, the chef now supplies his restaurant with fruits, vegetables and herbs from his own Kangaroo Valley family farm.
He arrived in Australia more than thirty years ago, but waited for the ‘Goldilocks’ moment to open a restaurant. When Australia started growing commercial quantities of the ingredients crucial to Thai cuisine, he knew the time was just right.
He has run cooking classes at Harrods and on Spanish TV. He regularly guides those wanting to learn more about the magic of Thai cooking during classes at the restaurant.
It’s a balancing act
We spoke with Sujet pre-Covid 19, while feasting on some of the menu’s greatest hits. We talked about the holy grail of Thai cooking – balance. Outstanding Thai food balances heat, salty, sweet and sour. It also balances textures from the crunch of pork belly and peanuts to the silkiness of tofu. His most popular dishes are his curries but the menu features traditional northern dishes as well as the best from other regions.
Steamed rice noodle is filled with chicken and dressed in a broth that zings. The crispy pork belly is King (Pad Prik King to be exact) with green beans and kaffir lime leaves. And you’ve never had prawns until you’ve had them ‘thaied up’ at Spice I Am.
Sujet’s menu is both traditional and edgy. He has never compromised on chilli. He was rewarded in 2018, when Spice I Am was crowned a legend at the 2018 Good Food Awards.
The Spice I Am family secret
The former Qantas steward is passionate about using his own farm-fresh produce. He has been approached to manufacture range of curry pastes, but Spice I Am’s are dependent on that freshness you can’t get from a jar. His recipes for the Massaman, yellow, green, red and Jungle curry pastes will remain a treasured family secret. He has only shared them with his teenage sons; not even his kitchen staff know what makes them so incredibly good.
But, he does like to share with his customers how his cooking is from the heart. He isn’t in the restaurant business. He is instead in the business of making people happy. From what we saw (and tasted) he does that six days and nights a week. (Closed Mondays).
Disclaimer: This Magnificent Life was hosted by Spice I Am.