“We’re practising acceptance,” says Jesse Massumi, one of the owners of St Zotique’s popular Thai comptoir Pumpui. The restaurant took the decision to re-invent itself as an exclusively takeout counter when the pandemic hit, and the partners — Massumi, Jesse Mulder, and Xavier Cloutier — are now making preparations for the (eventual) opening of a new 45-seat Thai restaurant, Pichai, on an as-yet undisclosed location on St-Hubert Street. The goal is to be open by Christmas, if the COVID-19 gods comply.
Pichai (“older brother” in Thai) will be led in the kitchen by co-owner Mulder, a fluent Thai speaker who lived in Thailand for years, and chef Jesse Grasso, formerly of Toronto’s Black Hoof and Vin Papillon. A family-style menu inspired by Isaan grilled meats, vegetable and meat salads (think duck laab) will also feature a range of curries from the north and south of Thailand.
“With Pichai, we’re trying to create a more conducive environment for people to eat the way Thais eat at home,” says Massumi. “A lot of things come to the table together. You share. It’s not like you’re ordering a salad as a separate appetizer — it’s part of the meal, and the dishes complement each other.”
The wine list — including beer, ciders, and bubbles — will be curated by Elisabeth Racine of Nora Gray, with a specialty beer from Brasserie Dunham in the works. As with Pumpui, local sourcing is key to Pichai. “There are all these Québec farms with organic Asian ingredients that we’re already using at Pumpui,” chef Grasso says. “We’ll take a dish that uses traditional black or white fungus and use chanterelles. A curry that might include surf clams in Thailand can have our own whelks instead, and it will be really delicious.”
Three new partners are teaming up with Pumpui’s owners to launch Pichai: Chef Chitakone Phonmavongxay of Thai restaurant Thammada; Samuel Croteau, a close friend of Cloutier’s; and Thai grocer Ching Kong Han from Épicerie Hour Hong, who has been providing Thai products and locally grown Southeast Asian vegetables to Pumpui from the start.
At a time when the debate around culinary cultural appropriation is hitting fever pitch in Montreal, Pumpai’s owners say they are paying close attention to these issues. The restaurant is supported by members of the Southeast Asian community, the owners say; even Thai consulate staff come from Toronto to eat there.
“We talk about this every day,” says Massumi. “There’s a way to make these dishes conscientiously and with respect; to make sure that we are not extractive, and that we’re productive for the communities we serve. After three years, it feels really good to have not only direct community links, but financial links with people who have been instrumental in making Pumpui what it is.”