Duntroon is not the place you would usually go to hunt down authentic Thai cuisine, or perhaps now it is.
Thai national Parttarawadee Thongseema, more commonly known as Pat, has been cooking at the Duntroon Hotel on a Monday and Tuesday night almost since it reopened in February last year.
Her reputation for good food has grown in the district and Miss Thongseema estimates she cooks about 30 dishes over the two nights – which are usually when a pub is traditionally the quietest.
She now has 12 different dishes on the menu.
“I learned Thai cooking from this retired teacher, she’s very good with authentic Thai cooking,” she said.
Although not professionally trained, she is a “passionate cook”, who ran a lunchtime noodle restaurant for a year in her home village of Phum Phon, in Thailand’s rural Surin province, before moving to New Zealand to be with Kiwi partner Colin Martin.
The couple met in Bangkok, where Miss Thongseema worked at an electronics factory for 17 years, before she moved back to her village with Mr Martin to be with her family and to start the noodle restaurant.
“I’m quite involved over there,” Mr Martin said.
“When we’re over there we stay in the family home.
“We’ve established an organic garden at home in Phum Phon. We grow every vege that we want to use in the shop.
“That generated a bit of interest over there, because they’re very reliant on lots of chemicals.”
Miss Thongseema said she was enjoying Duntroon life and although she found it a bit colder, that did not bother her too much.
The couple usually tried to travel back to Thailand for two to three months during New Zealand winters, but are unsure when they will be able to do that again.
“It’s been interesting at the hotel. In a farming area you think people would be into traditional Kiwi food … now, she’s got a bit of a following for Thai food, and people are changing their eating habits, for more healthy food,” Mr Martin said.
More recently, Miss Thongseema has branched out, offering Thai cooking lessons for Duntroon locals at the community hall.
This doubles as a fundraiser for the hall, and also offers a chance for people to get off-farm and meet each other.
Miss Thongseema ran her final class of five for the year last Wednesday, but hopes to restart them again in February next year.
She had eight to nine people, predominantly women, at each class, and the meals were shared at the end.
“It’s a community meal,” Mr Martin said.
“It’s not just a cooking class, it’s a social thing, often just to get away from the farm.”
Some of the attendees were repeat customers, and the dishes were different every time.
To ensure authentic Thai flavours in her recipes, Miss Thongseema grows a lot of her own herbs and vegetables, including include lemongrass, kaffir lime, Thai basil and holy basil.
Other ingredients come from Oamaru’s Real Food store, and an Asian food warehouse.
Mr Martin said they were both “passionate gardeners”.
“There’s a full range of all veges. Lots of tomatoes, capsicums, beans … about 12 veges on the go.”
The vegetables used in the classes and for the pub meals are fresh from the garden.
The classes had proven to be a hit, and Miss Thongseema had also been asked to take them in Otematata – one at a private home, and one at the Working Men’s Club.
Miss Thongseema has gained a resident visa and has integrated well into the community.
She is a regular volunteer at the new Duntroon Community Garden, which was started up during lockdown on Jan and Geoff Keeling’s property.
“I quite enjoy to play in the garden,” she said.
There were about six core people who turned up every Wednesday to work on the garden, which was still being established, Mr Martin said.
Ms Thongseema also volunteers at Nicol’s Blacksmith and at the wetlands.