If you’re not sweating and sore from mincing, pounding, stuffing, grinding or generally doing things the hardest way they can be done, then you’re not making Lao food. – Sheldon, former cook/company mascot
Why hasn’t Laos’ food caught blaze in North America yet like its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam? Not to diminish either of their foods, but a real truth might lay with Lao food being very hard to make. Food is such an important pattern in the Laotian social fabric that laborious preparations (and always having a small fire going) are commonplace, and people are willing to commit the time and energy to making transcendentally tasty food.
Even now, in Slow Food 2.0, North Americans expect hasty dinners, even at the high end, hyper-local restaurants they’re tweeting about. The first thing most chefs do when assessing if a dish is viable for a restaurant kitchen is establish what the simplest way they can do it to order is. They ask: how few steps can this take from the chit coming in, to it leaving the pass to the dining room? what parts of this can be made ahead of time? are there components that can be badly compromised if the kitchen is busy, and if so can they be minimized or modified so as to keep the integrity of the dish while doing it fast? how much labor can I afford toward making sure this is made right?
Its unfortunate, but our preoccupation with getting things fast – even the locally grown, grass-fed, heritage varieties – interferes with us getting the best of much of the world’s cooking. “I’m really proud,” Chris says: “of being able to put Lao dishes on my menu that people were telling me I’d never be able to do in a restaurant.”
The Laohaus kitchen is amazing to observe. Rice is browning on the stove-top, low and slow for hours to be ground into rice powder. The sheer number of inserts filled with washed herbs, lettuce, shredded carrots, papayas, long beans, cucumbers is astounding: with the exception of rice, braises (like the pho meat), soup broths, and stuffed sausage (which is a whole thing) nothing is made ahead of time. A menu that tastes best a la minute is executed a la minute, every time. The prep work is a big task, but cooking begins the minute you’ve got your order in.
That said, food at Laohaus doesn’t take an unreasonable amount of time. But the nervous cawing of the printer signals a fury of mincing, pounding, searing, dunking noodles into simmering water, dropping fresh chicken into oil to order, in order that the food is brought to you fresh, as the person it was made for. So be patient.