Attention all foodie fanatics, culinary connoisseurs, lovers of fine flavours and fine dining. Downtown Markham presents its Dine Out DTM Festival. From now until March 6th, participating establishments with a wide variety of culinary profiles will offer a prix fixe menu from $15 to $45. There are also ticketed culinary events that are sure to spark your taste buds. This dining extravaganza provides the perfect opportunity for visitors to try out new restaurants, or to revisit old favourites at special, lower prices. The event is a celebration of food and drink in Downtown Markham, and invites consumers to discover the vibrant culinary culture of this up-and-coming urban location.
I recently had the good fortune to attend this event and write about my experience, and it was suggested to me that I try Lanna Cuisine. “Does your family like Thai food?” I was asked by Christina Butterfield, Director of Digital and Communications for The Remington Group who is hosting the event with a collective of hospitality partners in Downtown Markham. “Oh, sure,” I replied casually. “We eat Thai at the mall food court all the time.”
Oh, how I cringe at my naiveté now. With genuine respect to food court Thai establishments in malls the world over (because, hey, who doesn’t like a good Pad Thai takeout after some retail therapy?), a high-end Thai fusion establishment like Lanna Cuisine is in a culinary stratum of its own. It is a flavour sensation that I truly had no business comparing to anything I have personally experienced before. And it has now set a pretty high bar for my Thai expectations from here on in.
The cooking style of Chef Tim Chen pays homage to the Thai belief that the secret to authentic flavours lies in using natural elements. This is why he seeks out local ingredients as much as possible, and approaches the creation of his dishes from a traditional Thai foundation. Natural spices and herbs without any artificial additives are a feature in Chef Chen’s kitchen. To achieve the irresistible aromas and flavours he and his staff deliver, the Lanna Cuisine team has a keen eye on the current trends of Thailand’s famous chefs and local restaurants to ensure this unique Downtown Markham establishment provides authentic and delicious Thai food.
Of course, I was not aware of this as I walked into Lanna Cuisine. For my partner Peter and I, it was an opportunity to escape the kids for a night, and get away just the two of us. A prix fixe menu and a well-reviewed culinary event in a thriving urban centre like Downtown Markham seemed the perfect excuse for some alone time. “Sorry, kids. This is a work function. You’re going to have to sit this one out. Yes, I know, we’re disappointed too.” I think that last part was said through the window as we were pulling out of the driveway. A romantic escape was what we found when we arrived. With its high ceilings, elegant décor and personable staff, Lanna Cuisine was an oasis of culture compared to our chaotic (but much enjoyed) daily family life.
Given that it was just the two of us, and the prix fixe menu had two choices each in the salad, entrée and dessert categories, we ordered everything and shared it between us. I cannot adequately describe the flavours of Chef Chen’s dishes. The term “subtle complexity” seems to me an oxymoron, but that is exactly what it was. I could taste a variety of wonderful notes and spices, herbs and flavours. Yet not one flavour stood out over another. It was culinary harmony in a way that I would never be able to replicate in my own kitchen. Needless to say, everything disappeared—when our waiter asked if he could remove our empty plates, I very nearly tapped his hand away because there was still some curry around the edges that I hadn’t mopped up.
(By the way, the in-house curry is out-of-this-world good. As in, I would order it as soup if I didn’t think I was going to get some funny looks from the other patrons who are more refined than me.)
During our meal, I had the opportunity to speak to Chef Tim Chen, who took a short break from his duties to come out and talk to me. It is always humbling, I find, to meet the expert behind the product, and to see the passion that goes into something like this. Chef Chen takes immense pride in his restaurant. This is clear in way he talks about his food and his training. “I have been at Lanna Cuisine since the beginning eight years ago,” he tells me. “I’ve built it from the ground up.”
Chef Chen has trained in Dim Sum Chinese cooking, as well as French and Italian fine dining cuisine, and has worked at Michelin star-rated establishments in Hong Kong and elsewhere. “When I was attending George Brown College, the program manager asked me if I would like to go to Thailand for training for a period of time, and then come back for further training at a high-end Thai restaurant in Toronto,” he says. “When I was in Thailand, I attended the cooking school for one month, and trained at a restaurant in Bangkok. But I also studied in a small village to experience the local people and the lifestyle.”
According to Chef Chen, Lanna Cuisine’s style is Thai fusion. In Thailand, he explains, street food tends to be mixed together. But because his training is in French and Italian cuisine, more attention is paid to the presentation of the food. This fusion style, with much care given to cultivating authentic Thai flavours, is a chance for him to flex his culinary creativity and craft something truly special. “That’s my favourite part, the creating,” he states. “It’s kind of like being a chemist—you don’t know what will happen until you mix the ingredients all together and come up with your own formula.”
The Dine Out DTM Festival is on until March 6th. Participating restaurants are: Aroma Espresso Bar; Cineplex Cinemas Markham and VIP; Copper Branch; Costa Sorrento; Draco at Toronto Marriott Markham; Good Catch Boil House; Rouge River Brewing Company (featured with culinary event); Lanna Cuisine; Me Va Me Kitchen Express; Poke Guys; Ruth’s Chris Steak House; Terre Rouge; Kiu Japanese Restaurant; and Patisserie Fleur. For more information, visit www.downtownmarkham.ca.
Story by Katherine Ryalen