Thai chef from Randolph a James Beard finalist

RANDOLPH, Vt. (WCAX) – A Randolph woman is bringing the flavors of Thailand to Vermont and she’s being recognized for it nationally.

If you’re looking for traditional northern Thai cuisine, you don’t need to get on a flight. Just hop in the car and head to Saap in Randolph, where chef Nisachon Morgan makes every meal, and her knack for serving up flavors from home have landed her a spot as a James Beard Award finalist.

Nestled in small-town Vermont is big, traditional, Thai flavor. “I’m happy. American people love Thai food,” said Nisachon Morgan — affectionately known as “Rung” — the brains behind Randolph’s scrumptious eatery, Saap.

She and her husband Steven, a former NECI instructor, opened up the restaurant in 2014. But the roots of this menu extend back much further. The two met online and after months of Skyping, Steven took a trip to Rung’s home province of Isaan, Thailand, to meet her.

“We’re all sitting around the table eating in Isaan and everyone is going ‘Saap!’ explained Steve. “And I said, ‘That sounds like a Vermont word.’”

After getting married and moving back to the states, the two worked at Gifford Medical Center and enjoyed Rung’s incredible Isaan cooking for themselves. “And I thought, if we match her food with local beer, local cider, people will come for it. If it were just another Thai restaurant, people aren’t going to drive any distance to it when they can get that kind of food at home,” Steven said.

On the menu, customers will find Thai classics like Pad Thai, a dish from the Bangkok region heavily influenced by Chinese flavors.

“I don’t like Bangkok food too much. I don’t like coconut,” laughs Rung. So they cook what Rung knows and loves — fermented foods, barbecue, innards (slightly Americanized for Vermonters tastes.) “Pickled feet salty and smell really bad, but we love that.”

Saap is Rung’s first experience in a professional kitchen, so you can imagine her shock when she found out she had been nominated for a James Beard Award. “I don’t believe about that. My husband talks with me and he cried, ‘Oh, I don’t believe about that!’ What about James Beard? I don’t know James Beard, you know?” she said.

The two don’t know how they were discovered but credit their positive online presence to happy customers. Now, understanding the gravity of the honor, the couple is gearing up to head to the Oscars of the food world, where Rung could be named Best Chef in the Northeast. “I really appreciate {it},” said Rung. “Thank you.”

Rung will find out if she wins at the ceremony in Chicago on June 13th.

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