Laotian chef serves fresh Thai from unusual location
As much as I love tasting the small plates, chartcuterie boards and wedge salads at the brand buzzed-about restaurants opening up one after another around town, I really enjoy finding a place that it seems no one knows about ... and then spilling all the details.
Let me hip you to Khao San, where chef Souri Gaillard serves authentic and made-from-scratch Thai and Laos street food that she serves out of the kitchen of St. James Episcopal Church in Birmingham.
The carryout-only spot is an outpost of Gaillard’s family’s restaurant Khao San in Portland, Oregon.
“It’s Thai street food and a lot of the recipes are from street vendors from Bangkok, Shanghai and Isan,” said Gaillard.
She offers more than a dozen items, including Chinese-inspired egg rolls (her mom’s recipe), fresh rolls, street-style pad thai, Chaingmai beef short ribs and chicken basil dishes. Wash it down with a cardamom-infused dark roast iced coffee that is brewed in-house. She’s open to substitutions and working around dietary needs.
The mom of three says she makes all her own sauces from scratch and recently started featuring pork from Alley Farms in Jerome, Michigan. She connected with the Jackson-area farm while selling Khao San food at the Birmingham Farmers Market, where you can find Khao San on Sundays.
Gaillard was invited to take over the church’s kitchen by her friend Fr. Josh Hoover, who wanted to see someone make better use of the space than the occasional pancake dinner or banquet, and he wanted to offer the chef a place to cook and serve food out of while she builds a customer base to one day open a restaurant. She opened the St. James Khao San in January and has had hundreds of unique customers since then.
“I was really excited to have her here,” he said. “She’s helped out with multiple church receptions now. What Souri won’t tell you, is she can cook things besides Thai. Some of our parishioners are not as adventurous, but we’re sneaking (Thai food) in.”
Gaillard is a first-generation Laotian refugee; she and her family were sponsored by a Mennonite church in Ohio in 1976. Besides growing up with the Amish — the only other Asian folks she knew were her family members — she also married a Frenchman, Christophe Gaillard (also her business partner in this venture). So yeah, she knows her way outside of Thai cuisine.
“I grew up a lot in dairy country and farm country, Ohio,” she said, adding that she would cook with her mom, helping her with family dinners. “Food is a part of our culture and a part of our family life, and that’s how we share. And my mom definitely shows her love by cooking”
Cooking in conjunction with church is also part of her nature. Her mom used to make her egg rolls — the same recipe that Gaillard serves in Birmingham — to sell at the Mennonite relief sales to raise funds for the church’s work helping people overseas.
“That was her way of giving back to the community that took us in and gave us so much,” said Gaillard.
From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Tues.-Fri., Khao San can be ordered by calling (248) 480-3525 or online at squareup.com/store/khao-san. Pick up your order by ringing the bell at the door at 141 Chester, the church’s side door.