What's in a name?
Oct 17, 2015
Many customers ask me, “So where did you come up with the name Blue Chair?” And I say, “It’s named after a favourite restaurant in Thailand.”
And they say, “Oh yea? Tell me more!” And I’m obliged to relate the long tale.
Now I can say, “Read my blog!” Here is the story for what it’s worth. But first, some background, in case you are considering a Thai vacation, or a trip down memory lane!
Time travel back with me to before the Millennium scare. We’re wintering on Ko Lanta, one of Thailand’s beautiful islands in the Andaman Sea. Our home is a spartan thatch bungalow on stilts, with a view of the ocean. Across the water we can see Ko Phi Phi, the set for Leonardo’s The Island, filmed that year, (we are all hoping to get a glimpse of the man) and Roger’s The Man with the Golden Gun filmed in the ‘70s. (no hope of glimpsing Roger Moore:)
There are resorts for every budget and taste in Thailand. You could buy an entire Thai village for one night’s booking in one of those opulent palace hotels that might include rose petals in the bath water, but our hut isn’t much bigger than the bathroom in that hotel.
Our resort is based on the typical Thai beach bungalow business model. A beach-front restaurant, surrounded by as many bungalows as the entrepreneur can fit into his lot, or afford. Our beach is lined with resorts, but the daytime view is of deserted beach between a line of vegetation and the ocean. At dusk, the generators fire up, and the line of trees becomes a veritable Broadway of dining opportunities.
Our hut isn’t screened, but has a mosquito net over the king-size bed. There is a toilet, sink and shower with water warmed by the sun on the roof-top reservoir. In the mornings it is easier to wash the sleep off by running into the ocean to than take a cold shower. There is a hammock on the balcony and a housekeeper— all for 10 USD a night — “you stay long time, better price!”
Anyways, one Sunday, we planned a hike to town for the Sunday market. “It’s not far,” we thought. “We’ll take a short cut.” But as soon as we turned inland away from the cooling breezes of the ocean we immediately recognized our folly. Don’t hike without water!
But like Hansel and Gretel, we were suddenly in front of a little cottage restaurant. It had tables and blue chairs. “What a strange location,” we thought, “way off the beach, and not really on the way anywhere.” We ordered beers and assured the owner that we would stop again on the way home.
Which we did, for another beer, and a quick Pad Thai. But this was no ordinary Pad Thai. “This is good. Are you open for dinner?” we asked. His excitement was plain to see, ”Oh yes! You want fish?” He bowed and waied us, grinning.
So that evening, after a nap, shower, and happy hour, we donned our best beach pyjamas and headed back. Dinner was monumental. Whole fried fish with pepper and garlic for four. I can still taste it.
Next day we waxed poetic to everyone we met (beach social media) about “Chez Chaises Bleu” and headed back that evening for yet another great meal.
This time I asked if I could watch him cook the dinner for us. He was reluctant, but I made my case as a cook with an interest. The kitchen was open to the air under a canopy, a tile shelf with a sink, a burner, some thin aluminum pots, a wok, and a couple styrofoam coolers that couldn’t close due to the size of the fish stuffed into them. I marvelled at his humble kitchen, how he fried that large fish in that small wok, how good everything tasted and of course how much garlic was in the dish!
As it turned out, the young man was a trained chef from Bangkok, who had taken work in a resort on our beach. He met and married a young princess whose father, a gypsy king, dowered his daughter a piece of property, unfortunately not beach-front. This little store/restaurant was a proving ground, with the hope of possibly landing one of the beach properties down the road.
The original gypsies of the Asian seas had a habit of squatting wherever they wanted, to house and grow their families. Masters of the waterways, they also had a penchant towards piracy. The owners of the land and piracy victims took offense, and petitioned the King of Siam (remember Yul Brynner?) His solution was to give the Gypsies large tracts of land on the mostly-uninhabited islands. This was before the tourist boom. Now most of the resorts are owned by Gypsy families, often rented out to family members.
By the third day, our “Supper in the Blues” grew into a dining club of eight, and our social campaign included a colorful review of last night’s offering, and detailed directions on how to get there. We were helping this guy out. As we dug into our dinner the fourth day, another group showed up to sit at the second table.
On the fifth day, after our nap, as we were caught up in a volleyball game, two large groups of folks, dressed in their best beach pyjamas were headed in the direction of the Blue Chairs. They were still at it when we arrived. We had no formal reservation and when we finally got a seat, the owner bowed and waied us, saying sadly, “Sorry, no more food—all gone.”
The next day we went early to have our happy hour there, and were again too late. The next day we passed on the Volleyball and happy hour and still couldn’t get in. I guess we did help him.
Time machine back to 2004. I’m opening a restaurant, off-Whyte, in a forgotten strip mall in Ritchie. What a better way to title this project than to name it after that little off-beach, out-of-the-way café, on Lanta Island.
Where is Ritchie again? Can you give me the address please?
Whole Fish with Garlic and Pepper
How I remember it.
Take a whole fish, gutted and scaled. You want head on or off?
Wash well, score sides and slide into a large wok with bubbling oil. Cook for a few minutes on each side and lay on a platter on top of collard or other greens.
In another wok, quickly sautée a cup of chopped fresh garlic , and a half-cup of fresh-ground black peppercorns, until the garlic is clear and just starting to brown. Mix into this, a solution of a quarter cup each of fish sauce and fresh lime juice and a tablespoon of sugar. Pour this over the fish, sprinkle with finishing salt and serve.
Deep-frying whole fish in the here and now...
If you are lucky enough to have one of those popular turkey deep fryers, use that. If not know now that deep frying a whole fish in a wok is messy work. It is also dangerous as the oil is real hot, and the splatter—you’ll be cleaning for days. Be sure to score fish to speed the cooking process.
Use the 10 min per inch rule for cooking time.
Of course top with liberal amounts of cilantro or other fresh herbs.
Use Elephant garlic. It is almost possible to imagine eating a cup of this milder version, but real garlic? Maybe it’s just easier to eat that much garlic on an extended Thai beach vacation.
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