When Chai Siriyarn opened his celebrated Marnee Thai restaurant in San Francisco in 1986, he hoped to give his patrons a taste of Thai cuisine and culture so transporting that they could enjoy the country’s wonders without ever having to leave the neighborhood. His plan worked. And yet more than twenty years on, Chef Chai’s artistry and balanced hand with Thailand’s inimitable cuisine may in fact have sent just as many newly minted Thai-food enthusiasts to his homeland as they’ve brought through his restaurant door. Perhaps that’s because of Chef Chai’s infectious enthusiasm for Thai cooking, both in its simplest home style, as well as in the tradition of its royal courts. Marnee Thai is a very personal operation, a labor of love that’s a capstone to a life lived in celebration of food. Bangkok born and bred, Chef Chai grew up in a culinary family and spent his childhood steeped in the restaurant business. Having learned to cook at his mother’s knee–herself a master chef of Central Thai cuisine–Chef Chai determined not only to continue in his family’s craft, but to extend its reach to the United States.
Thus was born Marnee Thai. At the time of its opening in 1986, Thai food was just a blip on the radar screen of most diners. But in short – order–and in no small part thanks to Marnee’s regional Thai interpretations the city’s denizens developed a love for Thai flavors that reflects Marnee’s rank as one of the premier places to savor Thai cuisine outside the country itself. Even in San Francisco’s crowded restaurant field, Marnee Thai continues to stand out. Its “secret ingredients” are the forty-plus years’ of culinary experience that Chef Chai has collected. That experience has given him an instinctual feel for balancing aromas and flavors. They’ve taught him there’s no such thing as a minor detail. And most importantly, they’ve kindled in him a heartfelt passion that translates into everything he puts on his menu.
Chef Chai’s accolades include winning the Superchef contests both in Los Angeles and in Thailand. He was also named International Chef of the Year at the Awards of the Americas at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Chef Chai had the supreme honor of serving as guest chef to the Royal Thai Embassy at a United States-Thailand Amity for Charity Foundation tsunami relief benefit. Among the guests at the gala dinner were celebrities, U.S. senators, and the prince and princess of Thailand. Chef Chai has appeared as a guest chef and educator at the Culinary Institute of America, CA. Chef Chai has made guest appearances at University of Massachusetts, Cornell, and Stanford University. He also received the Master Chef award from the American Academy of Taste in Las Vegas. As Thailand Superchef, he’s taken on an ambassadorial role, bringing Thai culture to audiences around the world. He is the author of the cookbook Thai Cuisine Beyond Curry, which includes traditional recipes as well as updated classics.
With such laurels to Chef Chai’s credit, it’s no wonder that Marnee Thai has held a spot among the top-five Bay Area Thai restaurants in the San Francisco Zagat Survey for over 20 years running and is recommended in the San Francisco Michelin Guide (2011-14). Marnee Thai has also received the Thai Select Award from the Thai government as one of the best Thai restaurants overseas. Chef Chai lives in San Francisco with his wife, May, and his two sons, Kasidit and Kevin, who are prepared to take over the business in the near future.