I felt lucky as I popped into Origin Thai—a BYO family-owned-and-operated establishment that was recently awarded the title of “2023 Best Southeast Asia/Thai Cuisine” in Central New Jersey—as I had an opportunity to sit down with the man behind the menu: chef de cuisine Manop Sutipayakul.
Sutipayakul’s culinary journey began amid the vibrant street food scene of Bangkok, Thailand, where he was immersed in the art of gastronomy from an early age. He started at his father’s restaurants in the heart of the kitchen washing dishes, which is where he discovered his true passion for crafting Thai delicacies and mastered the art of cooking.
Yearning for greater opportunities, in 1986 Sutipayakul embarked on a life-changing adventure in New York City, where he got a job in a deli blocks away from the World Trade Center. Over the next 14 years, his passion and dedication led him to various roles at esteemed Thai and French restaurants. His resiliency in this challenging industry—including two restaurant ventures that did not work out—fueled his determination to create something extraordinary from scratch.
In 2000, his fate changed when he opened the doors to Origin Thai in the then-quiet town of Somerville. The restaurant took root and developed a following. In 2008, he opened a second location in Basking Ridge.
Although at the onset some questioned the fusion of French cuisine with Thai flavors, but Sutipayakul was captivated by the intricate techniques, artful plating and tantalizing flavors he witnessed while working in French kitchens during his stint in Manhattan. The love in his heart for French cuisine elevated his Thai dishes, fusing the best of both worlds into an unforgettable dining experience.
Origin Thai delivers flavorful dishes that have since redefined my palate and put this restaurant, for me, in a league of its own.
To start exploring the menu, I began with my go-to Thai dish: the Chicken Satay served on skewers. The peanut sauce was unlike any that I have tasted—creamy, slightly sweet and with a hint of spice—that was served side-by-side with a cucumber salad in a Thai dressing for a cohesive dish. (I told Chef Sutipayakul how much I loved the sauce, and he sent me home with a tub.)
Next up was the Peking Duck Salad. The duck was gorgeous: tender and juicy with an exceptional crisp on the skin. This is impressive, given how hard duck can be to cook: It’s a very rich and delicate dark meat covered in a thick layer of fat. Sutipayakul meticulously roasts his duck bone-in for three hours, which helps lock in the flavor and avoid a dry, chewy meat.
I was then delivered the Soft Shell Crab, a seasonal special that was the highlight of the meal. I elected to go with the Thai basil version over garlic. I was not disappointed. These softies are blue crabs that have molted their shell and are harvested before they can regrow a new shell so their skin is soft, making the entire body edible.
Sutipayakul sources his seafood, along with other ingredients, from local distributors and every bite shows how much effort goes into finding the best of the best. The crabs come pan-fried and topped with basil and a chili pepper sauce. It is served with a side of crab fried rice to help you soak up every last bit—no flavor left behind!
This was followed by a Massaman Curry dish, with chicken as my protein of choice. You’re immediately hit with the coconut milk, which offsets the curry spice nicely. (Mind you, I have a very low tolerance for spice so this may have a different definition for you.) They were gracious enough to share the recipe so you can make it at home.
For dessert, I wrapped up with Thai coffee and Fried Ice Cream—a baseball-sized sphere of vanilla bean ice cream, coated in a fried shell and served over a raspberry sauce. It becomes ice cream flambé tableside, doused with brandy and set aflame. A total showstopper for a marvelous meal.
View the menu at OriginThai.com.
Food writer Kyle Getz (The Tipsy Critic) discovers New Jersey’s top spots and hidden gems. Follow his blog on Instagram @tipsycritic.
Serving Size: 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 14 minutes
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ c thinly sliced onion
1 chicken breast (medallion sliced)
2 tbsp massaman curry paste (purchase at an Asian grocery store; Maesri brand is best)
2 tbs peanuts (whole)
¼ c butternut squash (cube diced)
1 c coconut milk
¼ c chicken broth
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 servings of white jasmine rice
Add butter to a medium-heat saucepan.
Add onion and cook until slightly soft (about 2 minutes).
Add chicken and curry paste. Stir together for 2 more minutes.
Add peanuts, butternut squash, chicken broth and coconut milk. Gently stir for 3 minutes until the contents start to boil.
Add fish sauce, sugar and vinegar and cook until all is blended well. Stir until boiling.
Once the butternut squash is tender and the pot comes to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the avocado last minute so it doesn’t break.
Serve white jasmine rice.