Photography by Kathy Tran

Donny Sirisavath learned how to cook in a mom-and-pop restaurant, savoring techniques passed on from his mom, dad, aunts, uncles and grandmas.

From the age of 9 to 21, Sirisavath absorbed old-school culinary techniques like cooking from scratch, a pinch of this and that, and using your hands for measurements.

“A lot of stuff I learned was more or less just Laotian, which was at home,” Sirisavath says. “My teaching was really in the restaurant with my mom, so everything I learned as far as technique and flavor profile was through my upbringing and my childhood.”

Chef Sirisavath owns Khao Noodle Shop, an East Dallas restaurant, which has caught national attention after being named Bon Appetit’s No. 2 best new restaurant in America in 2019. In May, Sirisavath was named one of Food and Wine’s top 10 chefs.

Sirisavath says he builds a palette profile for dishes with ingredients, but his recipes come primarily from instinct, smell, taste and texture.

“You really get a sense of what you put into a dish because it’s soulful. You understand every single ingredient that goes into it,” Sirisavath says. “I come up with dishes, as well as replicate a lot of dishes my mom made because she never wrote anything down.”

Khao Noodle Shop is about a memorable experience. The food becomes a conversational piece, which is why COVID-19 has been especially tough for the restaurant.

As part of Lao culture, customers share their compliments with the chef by stacking bowls once they’re done eating each entrée.

“All these accolades, it didn’t really matter because COVID was No. 1, no matter if we’re best chef or best restaurant.”

“We’re stacking boxes now,” he says. “That’s our food. It’s communal food. It’s what our culture represents. We sit down, have a meal with each other and, usually, it’s not just one dish. It’s three, four or five different dishes.”

Pivoting to a takeout model has been challenging. The food at Khao is more of an experience of the Lao culture, something you can’t get out of a to-go box. So Khao closed temporarily.

“That week that we closed, everyone came supporting us. Like, damn, where were you guys for the past three weeks?” he says. “All these accolades, it didn’t really matter because COVID was No. 1, no matter if we’re best chef or best restaurant.”

Although Khao has struggled the past few months, the restaurant is reverting to its pop-up days, working with smaller businesses on “Khao-llaborations.”

“I’m going to use this as an incubator for other people that had a dream to do a pop-up or a restaurant,” he says. “They can actually feel what it is to be in a restaurant industry to see if you’re cut out for this.”

Sirisavath says he wants this opportunity to raise awareness for culture, heritage and Asian-owned businesses.

“It’s all about love and care about the food you make for others,” he says.

Khao Noodle Shop, 4812 Bryan St., 972-803-3373, khaodallas.com.


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