Shanee is a Thai restaurant that stands out among the pasta and pizza in the Little Italy restaurant district it calls home. Torontonians love Thai Food, so the opening of Shanee created a buzz around town. I recommend you stop in for a cocktail or two from their seasonal and unique cocktail menu while sharing the flavourful and creative dishes Chef Sherry has curated.
Chef Sherry Papa shares how she is continually inspired, the ‘secret weapon’ in her kitchen, and how necessity and curiosity drove her to become the chef she is today.
As an entrepreneur, Chef, and mother how do you carve out time to find inspiration for your seasonal menu?
Whenever I’m free I always do lots of research. I always like to know what’s going on around the world, Bangkok especially. To see what’s the trend, what are the new ingredients they’re using. And always like to see what local ingredients are in the season that I could use to make new dishes. And I also like to interact with our customers. Whenever I’m able to, I like to hear their feedback.
What were the key moments in your journey that drove you to become a Chef?
When we decided to move from Bangkok to open a restaurant here in Toronto, me and my husband went to culinary school together hoping to learn how to make everything from scratch and so we could come up with our own recipes. But we’d never thought of becoming chefs ourselves. Until we were about to launch our first restaurant, Soi Thai, we still couldn’t find help in the kitchen and that’s when I had to go in the kitchen and I’ve been cooking ever since. Becoming a chef came out of necessity. As a business owner, you do what you have to in order to succeed, and cooking in the kitchen, though not part of the original plan, worked out for the better. As a food lover, you can’t keep me away from the kitchen.
What is one dish on the menu that reminds you most of your childhood in Thailand?
Moo Krapao with taro chips. Like I’ve always said to everyone, I am Thai but I don’t eat Pad thai. I might eat some but very rarely, maybe once or twice a year at the most. If you asked me what the favourite/comfort food of Thais, I’d say Moo Krapao (spicy ground pork stir fried with Thai basil leaves). It’s something that we could eat everyday without thinking. And our Moo Krapao that we serve here at Shanee, it’s my mom’s recipe. I grew up with her food and her food is the best.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in opening your restaurant?
The biggest lesson I learned from opening our restaurant here in Toronto is you have to wear different hats, at all time. And you have to be ready to switch at any time. You need to know both front and back of the house. You need to be able to cook, prep and clean while you’re in the back of the house, also be able to serve and talk about your food to your customers while you’re working at the front too. One day you’re still over staffed, next day you might get a call from your staff they can’t come to work. So always expect the unexpected. Always be prepared.
We’ve spoken with enough Chefs to know they can’t live without a good knife. Besides your Chef’s knife, what’s the one kitchen gadget you consider your ‘secret weapon’?
My ‘secret weapon’ is a good, well seasoned wok. Because Shanee is not just Thai food - it’s my most essential. Our menu has Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino and other Asian influence; in most of these foods, the wok is essential.
Who inspires you, and why?
My mom. With any given ingredients, few or new to her, she could always cook something great out of it. And she could cook new dishes every day without repeating. She’s my inspiration. And outside of the kitchen, she inspires me with her work ethic and her ability to adapt. She’s a natural problem solver.
And the good news, Toronto - Chef Sherry and her husband have another, exciting project in the works promising to bring something totally unique to Toronto’s food scene!