Watcharee Limanon didn't know she was destined to become a chef—not to mention that she'd produce her wildly popular line of Thai sauces from Yarmouth, Maine. But we're incredibly glad she did.
It's not always a straightforward task to try and replicate your favorite international cuisines at home, but Watcharee's Thai Sauces make it not only easy, but unbelievably delicious. Limanon chatted with us about how she came to her sauce business, how she learned to cook, and what's on its way in her line of products.
Where did you grow up?
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
My father was a justice in the Supreme Court of Thailand, and I was exposed to his world—so, naturally, I wanted to be a judge.
What led you to make the switch from lawyer to chef? Who taught you to cook?
Growing up in Thailand, I inherited my love of Thai cooking from her mother. She was a wonderful cook and introduced me to many traditional dishes and taught me family recipes. When it came time to choose a career, however, I took the advice of my father and became an environmental lawyer.
As part of my job, I worked across Asia advising governments on new laws that help protect lives and livelihoods. My travels in Asia brought me closer to the origins of Asian cuisine, sparking my childhood memories and inspiring me to deepen my culinary skills at such top schools as the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School in Bangkok.
In returning to the U.S. from Asia in 2012, I established the Thai Culinary Arts Studio in Yarmouth, Maine to share the joys of Thai food through pop-up cooking classes and other culinary explorations. And in 2014, I created a line of sauces to share my passion and to expand appreciation for authentic Thai flavors.
How does the Cordon Bleu school in Bangkok differ from other Cordon Bleus?
They have the same curriculum in Bangkok and Paris. Chefs come from Paris to teach the courses in Bangkok, and ingredients like rabbits and pearl onions are shipped to Bangkok from Paris.
What made you want to start your own line of products?
When I returned to the U.S. (where I had lived as a law student), I made some exploratory visits to specialty food and grocery stores, and realized that there were no authentic, ready-made Thai sauces. The sauces on grocers’ shelves were not of a premium quality and did not capture authentic Thai flavors. I realized at that point that I could share my passion for Thai cuisine by creating a ready-to-use line of authentic Thai sauces that could be used for traditional Thai or fusion dishes.
After some home experimentation in the my kitchen, and with feedback from family and friends, I launched the product line, which was initially comprised of three sauces: Thai Peanut Sauce, Massaman Curry Sauce, and Green Curry Sauce. I selected these sauces based on my understanding of American tastes, as well as research from the Thai government and other sources. I learned, for example, that CNN Travel has rated massaman curry as the world’s No.1 best food.
These three sauces were an immediate hit, and sales grew quickly to where I was expanding production and working through distributors. In May 2015 I added Pad Thai sauce to the line. This month, we’re introducing our Thai Yellow Curry Sauce.
Watcharee's Green Curry Sauce
Where’s the best pad thai you’ve ever eaten?
At a local restaurant in Chantaburi. They serve pad Thai made from rice noodles (sen chan), with fresh crabs and a special pad Thai sauce. Our vegan pad Thai sauce recipe is based on the recipes from Chantaburi province.
What was your favorite meal of your mother’s that sparked your love of cooking?
Pan-seared fresh fish with fresh turmeric; garlic and cilantro roots with sour green mango salad with dried shrimp, lime and fish sauce—these dishes have have the five fundamental flavors of Thai cuisine. I grew up listening to my mother pouding the turmeric paste and other curry paste, and a wonderful aroma filled the house from our kitchen.
What other products would you want to develop down the line? (Are you working on any new ones now?)
I’m always thinking of new ideas. Each new sauce takes about 18 months from conception to production. We just launched our Thai Yellow Curry Sauce (vegan) in October! [http://www.watcharee.com/yellow-curry-sauce] This sauce will be available in Hannaford stores and other specialty food stores beginning in January 2018.
What’s your favorite local restaurant, café, or market?
Saigon Restaurant in Portland, ME, and Sun Oriental Market, also in Portland.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
Thai Food by David Thompson.
What are your favorite non-cookbook books or authors?
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Andre Agassi’s Open: An Autobiography (tennis is my other passion).
What’s your favorite comfort meal to make?
Thai rice soup with cod, cilatro, and pickled turnip.
What’s your go-to dinner party meal to make?
Salmon chu chee curry with lychee fruit.
What’s your favorite drink of the moment?
Who’s a celebrity that if you met, you think would really like you?