‘In the Weeds’ with Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip of Luv 2 Eat

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After working at the Polo Lounge, Fern Kaewtahip describes the similar passion she and partner Noree Pla have for Southern Thai food, inspiring them to open their open restaurant. Photo by Jakob Layman.

Chefs Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip met on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand. As adults, they each moved to Los Angeles, exploring the city and its food scene before they partnered to open Love2eat Thai Bistro in 2014. Almost immediately, they developed a following for their fiery crab curry and warm hospitality. Another restaurant followed, Noree Thai on Beverly. Pla and Kaewtathip stop by KCRW to speak about their shared passion for this week's In the Weeds.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Island origins

Fern Kaewtathip: “Phuket is [an] island, an almost every family is a mix of culture. So Phuket food is kind of my number one that I'm familiar with for Thai food. You can find pad thai in every part of Thailand. But in Phuket, you have some certain dishes that you can find only in Phuket.”

Noree Pla: “When I was young, I loved to eat seafood because I lived in Patong Beach. The small boat comes from the sea every day, and I sell the fresh fish, fresh crab, fresh squid ... my mom always buys that one and makes the crab curry in a small part. I love that really much.”

Kaewtathip: “I was always in the kitchen with my grandma. And I tried to help her [with her] cooking. like being her prep cook. It was my inspiration to work in the kitchen. But then I went to university, and I continued my bachelor's degree in marketing. And I worked for [a] petroleum company for a few years. And then my dad said, ‘You should go for a master's degree,’ or something like that. But once I got here in the U.S., I changed from a master’s degree to culinary school in Pasadena. So that's how I came to be a chef.”

Pla: “I started [getting] interested about cooking because my dad and my mom [are] chefs. Always we cooked together in the kitchen in the evening, and my mom opened a restaurant in Patong Beach, not far from the beach.”

A shared passion

Kaewtathip: “We wanted to come here together, but I came first and then she followed me. We have [the] same passion about cooking. We wanted to cook some southern Thai dishes that we have, like our own recipes. We just want to let people know more about Thai food. We decided that we should open our own restaurant in 2014. Before that I was ... a line cook at Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. And Pla was a waitress at one Thai restaurant. Once I finished my culinary school, we thought it might be a good time that we should open our own, instead of being partners with someone else.”

Pla: “[When I was] thinking about what I want to cook, I was thinking about my mom’s crab curry, because here, I didn't see crab curry in another restaurant. I was thinking, ‘Oh, this one is very good.’ It uses fresh crab and coconut milk and has a chili paste homemade. That one is made from the tumeric. This one is very good ... my favorite dish that I want to cook here when I opened the restaurant.”

COVID changed everything

Kaewtathip: “COVID changed everything. When they announced that we have to close for dining, we tried to think a lot, ‘What should we do?’ Because it's gonna change everything. For me, I [thought] like, ‘How can I cut the cost? How can I control the costs? How can we make us survive?’ And we are so lucky. We have really lovely customers who [are] always supporting us and helping us. The first few days that we closed dining, people came and supported us. I never expected that we're going to have this kind of problem before. Right now it's getting better, since they let us open for dining. I mean, it's not like before, but it’s getting much better than [the] pandemic last year, you know?”

Pla: “If you go to Luv2eat and you want to try the signature food, crab curry is really good because it's my secret recipe that my mom [taught] me how to make. And the Hat Yai fried chicken is very, very good.”

Kaewtathip: If someone [is] allergic to crab, you can try the fish curry. It’s the same base that Chef Pla makes. And then my dish that I want to suggest is Hat Yai fried chicken. It’s a certain style of fried chicken. It comes with sticky rice and spicy-sweet chili sauce with a lot of fried shallots on top. Another dish that’s very famous at our restaurant is moo-ping. Moo-ping is like pork skewers we marinate overnight, and then we grill it. It's very yummy, this one. I love it.”


Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip took a trip back to Phuket, where they both moved from separately, to end up opening Luv 2 Eat in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Luv 2 Eat.


Chef Noree Pla remembers the fresh seafood available and the special crab curry her mother made, prompting her to serve the dish at Luv 2 Eat, something she didn’t see on local Thai restaurant menus. Photo by Jakob Layman.

Credits

Host:

Evan Kleiman