Mount Currie would seem an odd place for a Thai restaurant.
Surrounded by lush farmland, its jagged namesake mountain looming in the distance, it's the kind of remote backdrop that doesn't exactly scream profit to the average restaurateur. But, removed from the hustle and bustle of Whistler, far from the Asian-food mecca of Vancouver, and the family-run Barn Nork is doing just fine. In fact, it's a rare night the restaurant isn't busy these days, even welcoming Hollywood star Kate Winslet and her family on a recent trip to Pemberton.
Like a lot of immigrants to the Sea to Sky, the Nutamarn family — who opened the Portage Road eatery in May of last year — chose the area for the lifestyle first and foremost.
Originally from Bangkok, the Nutamarns are no strangers to the teeming chaos of urban life, and while they considered setting up shop in more conventional markets, it was the serenity of Mount Currie, harkening back to the idyllic paddy fields of Thailand, that ultimately drew them in. "It's a very peaceful place here," said Pakrapai "Noi" Nutamarn, co-owner and family matriarch. "We love nature."
That reverence for the rural is even codified in the restaurant's name. Housed in an old heritage barn, "Barn Nork" is actually a play on words, translating to "village house," like you would find in the Thai countryside. It also speaks to chefs Janice Sriwantan and Jay Nutamarn's no-fuss approach in the kitchen, melding the bold and simple flavours of Southeast Asia with locally available ingredients.
"The food is real Thai food because we try to maintain what Thai (cuisine) is," Nutamarn said.
Take the pad Thai, a beloved street dish that is Westerners usual entry point into the sweet, sour and spicy cuisine of Thailand. Typically made with stir-fried rice noodles, tofu, ground pork and dried shrimp, Barn Nork has subbed out the crushed peanuts normally sprinkled on top in favour of the buttery hazelnuts available in Pemberton. The restaurant's signature dish, a beef shortrib massaman curry, uses locally grown potatoes, onions and carrots. Simmered for six hours, it's a subtly sweet curry that shares more in common than you might think with the hearty stews the region's farmers have subsisted on for generations.
"You know, at first, we weren't sure (if locals would enjoy Thai cuisine), but now we are because many people in Pemberton, they used to go to Thailand a lot and they love it," said Nutamarn. "Some people have been to Thailand maybe more times than myself!"
The family has taken a circuitous route to Mount Currie. Both chefs trained at the iconic Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, before Jay moved to Slovenia for a few years to work in a Thai kitchen there. Jay has also spent time cooking in Vancouver, but the family knew it would be difficult to stand out in the city's crowded restaurant scene.
Besides, the locals of Mount Currie — who don't often see new restaurants come to town, let alone one specializing in ethnic flavours — have embraced Barn Nork with open arms.
"Thanks for the people here that support us and all the customers, they are so very generous and friendly," said Nutamarn. "They're kind to give us a chance to offer Thai food, and they love it."
Barn Nork is open every day from 5 to 9 p.m., except Wednesdays. The restaurant will be closed, however, until March 23 while the family goes on vacation. More information at www.barnnork.com.