The culinary chops behind Newmarket caterer Laos-C-Chef is building his business one taste sensation at a time.
Self-taught chef Amphay Sisavang created this gig for himself after a 15-year career as a tool-and-die maker came to an end with the decline of the automotive manufacturing industry.
Food and cooking were always passion points for Sisavang, and the move from factory floor to a kitchen felt like a natural transition, he said.
Sisavang invested his own money into the catering company a year-and-a-half ago and, with the support of the local community, has been growing steadily.
“It was scary and it still is scary for me,” Sisavang said of taking the leap of faith into entrepreneurship. “There’s a lot of challenges. I always knew the cooking and back-of-the-house aspect of the restaurant business, but now it’s also dealing with different bylaws of the towns we go to for food festivals, the clients, billings and paperwork, there is a lot of adventure and excitement.”
Sisavang has carved out a niche for himself by, what some would say, is a bold and daring fusion of ingredients traditional to various cultures.
Take the taco, for example. One bite of Sisavang’s take on the snack popular in countries such as Mexico explodes with heat from the Caribbean. The soft tortilla is mounded with meat marinated in spicy jerk seasoning and topped with mango salsa, white onion and cilantro.
“I think, how can I do that in a traditional way but change it up a bit,” Sisavang said. “I also make a Thai taco, using oyster mushrooms together with coconut cream to make it vegan-friendly and healthier. I like to bring different cultures together.”
Sisavang and his wife, Anitra Basant Sisavang, often work together, and on Tuesday trivia nights at Newmarket’s Market Brewing Company, you can find them operating a pop-up kitchen that offers a small menu of some of the caterer's top sellers.
On a recent Tuesday night, the pair were dishing out Korean beef tacos, jerk pork tacos, and, perhaps, one of the more surprising grilled cheese sandwiches this writer has ever come across.
The layer of flavours are as follows: Locally sourced walnut sourdough bread from Nutmeg Bakeshop on Main Street, candied bacon, which Sisavang prepares himself, slightly spicy arugula, and cheeses, including brie, mozzarella, cheddar and havarti.
It is, all at once, crunchy, salty, spicy, sweet, and creamy. And, objectively, simply delicious.
“I want to be a bit different and figure out how to stand out,” Sisavang said.
The chef, who hails from Laos, spent the past few years cooking and learning about the business in local kitchens. He did a stint at Newmarket’s Made in Mexico, and helped open the Yonge Street location of the Pickle Barrel.
He gained experience as a sous chef, cook and, most recently, executive chef at Newmarket’s Lobo Iberico, a homey restaurant offering diners a taste of Spain in the form of tapas, paellas, and other traditional dishes.
Sisavang’s friendship with Lobo Iberico owner, Trish King, flourished, and he continues to prepare food for his catering clients in that kitchen.
He is grateful to other chef-friends for helping him along in this journey, and said the support of the local community has made his success to date possible. Sisavang pays that forward by shopping local at such places as the Farmers Market at Riverwalk Commons, and other food-producing local businesses.
“Now we’re expanding to festivals and pop-up kitchens, but our main focus is still catering,” he said. “I’ve been blessed, and we’re doing OK for just starting out. I have a small local business and am getting support. I’m really happy with how things are going.”
A May 2019 post on the caterer’s Facebook page from client Jeff Roberston said this: “We can’t say enough good things about Amphay and his food! Chef Amphay catered a fundraiser for my daughter’s daycare today and, as always, the food and customer service were both 10/10!
His passion for what he does shines through in every dish he makes. I highly recommend him for your next event!”
Sisavang’s playful and inventive approach to food can also be found in his sense of humour. He loves to laugh and demonstrated that when naming his business, Laos-C-Chef.
“It means two things, it’s a play on words,” he said. “The ‘Laos-C’ is me being modest about my food, that it’s ‘lousy’, and Laos is where I’m from. The C stands for Canada. It’s just about adding a bit of humour to the name of the business.”
But the chef with a big smile intends on staying small and local.
“That’s what I’m all about, businesses helping each other out,” he said. “I’ll help out charities and provide free labour. I’m not about being a super-giant in the food business. I’m creating a job for myself and a career, my staff is small but I’m in control 100 per cent in what I do.”
“This is all just passion cooking for me, developing new recipes, improving existing recipes, and always trying to grow as a chef and explore what can I do differently. That’s my recipe,” Sisavang said.For more information on Laos-C-Chef, visit them on Facebook, on Instagram @laoscchef, call 416-737-5991, or email email@example.com.