Food News

Amy Chanta, founder of Sydney’s Chat Thai, has died

The chef and restaurateur built an empire of Thai restaurants that irrevocably shaped Sydney’s love and understanding of Thai food.

Amy Chanta at Boon Luck Farm in 2018.

Kara Rosenlund

Sydney’s queen of Thai food, Amy Chanta, has died after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 63 years old.

The chef and restaurateur was instrumental in shaping Sydney’s Thai food scene, with the opening of the first Chat Thai restaurant in 1989 on Liverpool Street in Darlinghurst. The original Chat Thai was more than a restaurant – it was a place of gathering, culture and togetherness for Sydney’s Thai diaspora in the ’90s.

The family-run Chat Thai empire has since grown to eight Chat Thai restaurants across Sydney, all of which serve the signature “Amy’s noodles”, a stir-fry of egg noodles, prawns, chilli and greens, said to have been created by Chanta in a fridge-raiding moment of hunger.

The restaurant group also includes hawker-style eatery Samosorn, south-east Asian spot Assámm, plus Thai-Australian café mash-up Boon Café and its attached south-east Asian grocery Jarern Chai. In 2016 Chanta added Boon Luck Farm, a 45-hectare property near Byron Bay run by daughter Palisa Anderson, to the Chat Thai portfolio as a way to guarantee high-quality organic produce and hard-to-find ingredients (such as pea eggplants and finger limes) for her menus.

Chanta, too, was an effusive sharer of Thai food wisdom and knowledge. “The word ‘salad’ doesn’t really do it justice”, she wrote in a Gourmet Traveller how-to guide for making larb gai. “Sure, it’s served with raw vegetables and includes soft green herbs, but few Thais would eat a larb on its own as a Westerner eats salad – it’s just too spicy.” She also expounded the culinary virtues – and transportive powers – of adding bpu porn (pickled crab) and pla ra (fermented snakehead fish) to a som dtum Thai. “While these strongly flavoured variations can be challenging to the uninitiated, their mere scent can almost overwhelm a member of the Thai diaspora with nostalgia,” she wrote in 2015.

Last year, Anderson spoke about the deep family ties that belied the success of the Chat Thai group.

“I am very lucky to have a mum who respects my opinions and is always willing to put into practice my sometimes crazy ideas that don’t always work,” said Anderson. “Working in a family business can be frustrating at times because you can’t really walk away from family. Overall, our relationship is deeper because of our experience working together and we have learnt to have a lovely simpatico interaction.”

“Her approach to people has always been to lead with understanding and kindness. This colours all our business choices.”

On Thursday, Anderson took to Instagram to pay tribute to her mother.

“My mother, Amy/น้าตุ๋ย, passed away yesterday after 2 years of valiantly living with and resisting cancer. She leaves us with her light, her immense passion for living a full vibrant spiritual life, generously giving and loving to all those who had the fortune of existing in her orbit close and far away,” Anderson wrote.

“I will be forever grateful to have come into this life as her daughter- for every kernel of wisdom and discipline she imparted on me with how to be, how to love, how to care for people, creatures and all life around me.

“This evening is the beginning of a 5 night 6-8pm vigil we are holding at the Buddharangsee Temple in Annandale, Sydney. Please come by if you have the chance and if not then She and I will be grateful if you send your light.”

This story was originally published on March 11, 2021. It was updated on March 19, 9.15am to correct the number of Chat Thai restaurants in Sydney – there are eight Chat Thai restaurants, not seven, as the story originally stated.

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