Meet Philly’s next celebrity chef

“Doing Beard House was absolutely a career goal,”  says Chef Alex Boonphaya. / Joshua Mallory “Doing Beard House was absolutely a career goal,”
says Chef Alex Boonphaya. / Joshua Mallory

For any chef, an invitation to cook at the James Beard House in Manhattan is an honor. A James Beard Award is the food world’s Oscar, and the invite translates to a coming-out party that greats such as Daniel Boulud, Nobu Matsuhisa and Charlie Trotter have been accorded at the late Beard’s one-time home.

For Alex Boonphaya, it’s even more exciting. The Thai restaurateur joins a lineup that has mainly included chefs with an American, French or Latin focus.

“We were thrilled to finally get the opportunity, and their membership seemed happy as our dinner sold out,” says Boonphaya, who owns Circles Contemporary Asian Cuisine in South Philly and Northern Liberties.

That definitive dinner previewed Boonphaya’s future, particularly the mix of Thai and Mexican cuisine he’s creating, along with chef Silvestre Rincon, for Tuk Tuk Real at 429 South St. — opening Sept. 10 — and a white-tablecloth Thai restaurant planned for Midtown Village in Summer 2015.

Tuk Tuk Real is a 48-seat Thai taqueria Rincon won executive chef title rights for during what Boonphaya calls a “knife fight.”

The as-yet-unnamed, more upscale Midtown Village spot doesn’t have an address yet, but Boonphaya is deep into menu planning; expect delicate, subtle flavors. The restaurant will allow Boonphaya, who has a background as a Four Seasons Hotel sous chef, a chance to serve highbrow yet accessible cuisine alongside a cocktail program he says will rival Philly’s top bars.

“Producing the menu for the James Beard House was a step in the direction I’ve been moving toward for years,” says Boonphaya. “I can’t wait to make food like that on a daily basis.

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