Chaophraya Leeds: Meet the owner of the Thai oasis in the heart of Leeds city centre

Chaophraya is a Thai oasis in the heart of Leeds.

By Abbey Maclure
Monday, 7th March 2022, 2:23 pm

The family-run chain, launched by Kim Kaewkraikhot and her partner in 2004, has now grown into a culinary empire - with restaurants across the UK.

Kim transports diners to every corner of Thailand with her wide-ranging menu, served with a smile in lavish surroundings.

She grew up in a rural village in the region of Sukhothai, Thailand, where she learnt to cook for her family from a very young age.

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Kim Kaewkraikhot and her partner launched their first Chaophraya restaurant in Leeds in 2004 (Photo: Tony Johnson)

"We were a big foody family and cooking was a huge part of our life," Kim told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"Traditionally, the first dish you learn to cook as a child in Thailand is steamed rice and you cook for your parents – they’re the biggest critics!

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"I didn’t have many opportunities back in Thailand so cooking or teaching was my only option.

Kim grew up in a rural village in the region of Sukhothai, Thailand, where she learnt to cook for her family from a very young age (Photo: Tony Johnson)

"I explored teaching for a short time and also jewellery making, but food was my passion and I wanted to explore the opportunities in this area."

After graduating from catering school and setting up a street food stall when she was 20 years old, Kim moved to Leeds in 1999 where she worked her way up from kitchen porter to head chef at the former Mai Thai restaurant.

Leeds has become her "home away from home" and in 2004 she set up the first Chaophraya restaurant in Swinegate with her partner.

"It is a very different lifestyle but I have a lot of my family over here now," Kim added.

Kim has shared the recipe for her perfect prawn Pad Thai (Photo: Tony Johnson)

"I explored the area and learned everything there was to know about the location and the culture here, so that I could adapt to the different way of living and type of cuisine the British palette enjoys."

Kim's menu brings together classic Thai dishes with signature creations, washed down by a range of cocktails, wines and beers.

"We offer a contemporary take on traditional Thailand," Kim said.

"I want to show each and every guest what true Thailand is like and give them the tastes that I experienced from a very young age.

"I want to give a personalised experience to every one who walks through the door.

"I care so much about our guest feedback and what they think, this shapes the way we move forward as a business.

"The food is comforting and there is so much passion and love in the dishes, so I hope our guests feel that way when they try my food."

Kim now has six fine-dining Thai restaurants across England and Scotland, as well as her more casual street-food concept Thaikhun.

During the pandemic, Kim focused on training her kitchen staff and introducing new skills to their culinary repertoire.

She added: "I have had no control over anything and I cannot change what has happened, but my priority was to look after my team and ensure that we were all ready to reopen in the best light for them and the business.

"Our team work incredibly hard and having a team who all love what they do is what keeps me going, because I can see how much this means to them and how they love pleasing our guests."

How to cook Kim's perfect prawn Pad Thai

The national dish of Thailand serves one person and the protein can be substituted to suit individual dietary requirements.

Ingredients: 90g 3mm rice noodles; 40ml cooking oil; King prawns (or protein of your choice); 10g sliced red onion; 1 medium egg; 3g finely chopped sweet turnip; 15g tofu medium diced; 20g carrots cut Julien style; 40g beansprouts; 20g spring onion; 1 lime wedge; ½ tsp chilli flakes; 1 tbsp crushed blanched peanuts; Coriander to garnish; 50ml Pad Thai sauce

For the sauce: 100g palm sugar; 100ml tamarind paste; 1 ½ tbsp fish sauce (to make the dish vegan, use 1 tsp salt instead); 1 tsp white sugar; 1 tsp salt

To make the Pad Thai sauce

1.Add all ingredients to a saucepan on a low heat and stir until palm sugar is dissolved.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes.

Cooking the Pad Thai

1. Soak the rice noodles in cold water for at least one hour before desired cooking time.

2. Heat rapeseed oil in a wok and add the prawns (or other protein), stir-fry until cooked through then remove from the pan.

3. With the same oil add red onion until it turns slightly golden.

4. Add sweet turnip, carrot and egg, stirring constantly. Ensure the egg is separated when fried.

5. Add the rice noodles and sugar. Stir fry until all ingredients are mixed well and noodles are wilted.

6. Add tamarind sauce and fish sauce, then continue to stir in the pan until well combined.

7. Add beansprouts and spring onion until cooked but still crunchy.

8. Once complete, serve alongside peanuts, a lime wedge and chilli flakes. Simply garnish with coriander to finish and enjoy.

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