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A master of Thai technique at Renton's Royal Orchid restaurant
If you’ve lived in Renton for any length of time, you may be familiar with the Thai restaurant Royal Orchid. It sits right off of Rainier Avenue, about a block from the Renton Airport guarded by two silver lions at the entrance to the parking lot.
What you may not know is that the restaurant has a famous chef who’s been accumulating accolades and high praise for quite some time.
Buppha Booma, known to many by her nickname “Chef Daeng,” has been featured in Seattle papers and magazines, on a TV show and even knows fellow chef and restauranteur Tom Douglas. Many people are just discovering the culinary talents of Booma, who has been executive chef and co-owner of Royal Orchid with Alfredo Miyasaky since June 2008.
Originally from Thailand, Booma said she learned her technique from her mother and then mastered it in culinary school there. Her first job as an executive chef was at the Imperial Hotel in Bangkok. She was known for creating Thai menus by combining several techniques from several regions across Thailand.
From there, she was sent by the company to open a new Thai franchise in France. She worked at a restaurant there called Khun Akorn that was not far from the Champs Élysées, Paris’ luxury retail district.
She experimented not only with Thai food, but other regions as well. Booma spent nearly 30 years in Thailand and Europe perfecting her craft before she came to the U.S. First she landed in Los Angeles and worked there; eventually she arrived in Seattle, joining the Racha Thai and Asian Kitchen in 2001.
Miyasaky, her co-owner of Royal Orchid, once managed three eateries for Uwajimaya.
“In Seattle area she is well-known, but in Renton area she’s new,” he said of Booma.
He boasts that while other restaurants stick to the menu, Booma can custom- make dishes for the sophisticated Thai palette.
As executive chef at Royal Orchid, Booma makes all the curries herself, controls the quality of the food and recipes, making sure they are up to standards.
On the menu one will find all of the familiar Thai favorites like pud Thai, chicken satays, rolls, pud see-ew, Thai Basil and some delightful surprises.
One such surprise is Booma’s special Fish Salad ($13.95). Don’t be thrown off by the name; it’s an unlikely mixture with a surprisingly great taste. This dish is presented in a colorful array of strawberries, oranges, kiwi, apple slivers, red onions and cilantro on top of a lightly breaded and fried rainbow trout.
The fish soaks up the tartness of the fruit and the fish sauce smoothes over the combination, tying it all together with the cilantro.
A generous portion as most all Royal Orchid meals are, it’s a meal for one or nice appetizer for two people.
The Coconut Prawns ($9.50) are also a nice appetizer, laden with coconut and fried to sweet perfection.
The menu says that they strive for balance between texture and flavor drawing from many cultures, including Chinese, Indian, Portuguese and Malaysian.
Booma said her cooking is “very simple, but tastes very good.”
She said it has to do with knowing how to pair the right herbs and spices and cooking slowly, with a flame that’s just right.
“Her knowledge about cooking is, I think, very hard to capture, hard to learn,” said Miyasaky.
One of the chef’s specialties and popular items are the curries, in particular the Yellow Curry ($11.95 with prawns). It’s rich, but not overwhelming, savory with coconut milk, potatoes, carrots, onions and peanuts.
The Holy Basil Fried Rice ($9.95) is true to its name with lots of basil, tender pieces of chicken, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, bell pepper and egg. At four stars it’s just the right amount of spice, but doesn’t over power the dish.
In Thailand they use fresh leaves of some spices, which are very spicy. Here, Booma tones it down by using bell peppers sometimes as a substitute. Other herbs and spices she can adapt the recipe to accommodate different tastes. However, none of that compromises the flavor.
There are 101 items on the menu from vegetarian meals to curries, rice dishes, noodles and seafood. But, a meal would not be complete without dessert and there are several to choose from.
The traditional sweet mango and sticky rice is satisfying. It’s ripe Honey mango with warm Thai sticky rice, steamed in sweet coconut milk, topped with sesame seeds for a sweet but subtle taste. The coconut ice cream, surprisingly has taro root in it and is rich and satisfying.
Miyasaky hopes that more Renton residents will discover Booma’s style of cooking and enjoy it. He said that more people are familiar with Thai cuisine nowadays and can recognize the good food when they encounter it.
“Since she came here everybody they love her food,” he said.
The Royal Orchid
The Royal Orchid offers Thai cuisine.
104 Rainier Ave. S., Renton.
Lunch: 11a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Dinner: 4:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Open: 7 days a Week