Lifting the Lid: Kim Kaewraikhot, Thai Leisure Group

Kim Kaewraikhot is the head chef and owner of Thai Leisure Group, which has 18 restaurants across the UK under four brands: Chaophraya, Thaikhun, ChaoBaby and Yee Rah.

How long have you been in the industry?

I have been cooking for as long as I could walk! I started off helping my mum in the kitchen back home in Thailand and have not stopped since. My love for food has taken me from owning street food stalls in Bangkok, to running a multi-brand restaurant group across England and Scotland, starting in 2004.

What’s your career highlight so far?

There are many things that I could list here, but I must say, what makes me the most proud are the awards that we have won as a group. Alongside the daily feedback we receive from our guests, this is what makes it all worthwhile – hard work paying off and guests loving our food!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

There have been some great challenges throughout my career, from moving countries to creating new brands and ensuring consistency across all restaurants. But we have overcome all of these by remaining positive and never losing momentum.

We also make sure to never lose sight of our four values; Ow Jai Sai (Care from the Heart), Sanook (Fun), Samakee (Teamwork) and Ha Dao (Five Star). In order to be successful, we have had to make sure that our core values are not only noted but lived, day in day out, by every member of our team. We believe a business without heart is like a plate without food.

How would you describe your restaurant and its food?

Thaikhun is our authentic, casual street food experience whereas Chaophraya takes a modern and contemporary twist on traditional Thai cuisine. We believe both of our core brands are more than just the food, they’re about an overall experience and feeling.

Describe your team.

They are the beating heart of what we do and are the kindest, most passionate team I have ever worked with. We live by our Samakee (Teamwork) value to get the job done and to ensure each and every time it is perfect.

What’s your favourite Scottish ingredient?

Since I love salad and vegetables, it would have to be kale. It is a diverse ingredient, full of flavour and, when cooked the right way, it can be the heart of some of the most delicious dishes. Kale has been part of Scottish diet for centuries and I love cooking with it whenever I can.

What’s your favorite dish to cook at home?

I love cooking with fresh and vibrant flavours, especially in salads. I love finding a great combination of vegetables and dressings, it’s quick and easy and truly delicious!

Organic tofu salad with fish sauce, red onion, oyster sauce, palm sugar, cucumber and tomato, is one of my favourites. My recipes at home change with the season but I always make sure the salads I create are of the best quality through using local and seasonal produce.

What’s your favourite wine?

I can’t say no to a glass of Pinot Noir! Especially if it’s from New Zealand.

What makes a good chef?

Being obsessed with standards, food, cleaning and safety. Cooking is like reading because no matter how many books you read, there is always something new to learn.

What’s a top tip every chef should know?

Being a good chef requires the use of both hard and soft skills. You need to show attention to detail, be able to multitask, have an excellent understanding of cleanliness and safety/allergens, as well as cooking techniques and culinary expertise.

What makes you laugh in the kitchen?

Sanook (Fun)! I love working in the kitchen with my team as we all make each other smile and there is always a happy atmosphere. We often sing Thai songs in the kitchen and it feels like we’re back home in Thailand it might not be very good but it definitely helps us get through our busy shifts!

Who do you admire in the industry and why?

There are many Thai and British chefs who I admire, a couple being Rick Stein and Vichit Mukura. Rick is inspired by travel and fresh flavours and Chef Vichit started cooking with his mum from a young age in Thailand, similar to me.

How do you relax outside of work?

Spending time with my family and gardening. I spend a lot of time in my garden, planting vegetables and looking after my two micro-pigs!