Circles chef Alex Boonphaya and his wife are tired. They’ve slept less than 90 minutes and they’ve just finished serving 70 diners out of a kitchen that’s not their own. But their first dinner at the James Beard House in Manhattan seems to have gone well and now they desperately need a drink … or a bed.
The Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market is a lonely place at midnight. And that’s just how Circles Thai chef/owner Alex Boonphaya likes it. The refrigerated temperature doesn’t phase him despite his short-sleeved t-shirt, and on this past Wednesday morning, he quietly looks over boxes full of colorful fruits and vegetables imported from around the world–trying to decide which will make the cut for his dinner at the James Beard House in Manhattan tonight.
To call Boonphaya unassuming is to speak a significant understatement. Though he continues to win “Best of Philly” awards and survived a year-long application process to cook at the famed Beard House, his manner is shy and his ego is most assuredly in check. As he ambles through the Essington Avenue warehouse, glancing frequently at a notebook where he’s written a meticulous shopping list, he thanks product runners graciously, simply answers “yes” to a cashier who asks if he’s a chef, and orders a humble tuna sandwich to go for dinner from the on-site diner.
“Chefs don’t eat very glamorously,” he says softly to a member of the three-person entourage who’s accompanied him on this evening’s errand.
For those who can’t make it to chef Alex Boonphaya’s James Beard House dinner next Thursday, August 14, the owner of the growing mini-chain of Circles Thai restaurants (and perennial Best of Philly winner) will host a preview at his Northern Liberties location tomorrow at 6pm. For $50 you can BYOB for six courses plus a pre-dinner sparkling wine (included) and hors d’oeuvre reception that spans the breadth of Thai cuisine.