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BACK OF THE HOUSE
For Yupha Dequenne, owner of Yupha’s Thai Kitchen in Tempe, opening a restaurant was always a dream, but her late husband would have “nothing to do with it, she said.
She moved to the United States from Bangkok 40 years ago, earned two master’s degrees and had a longtime banking career. But she always loved to cook, and owning a restaurant was a dream she could never seem to get out of her system. So after she retired, she and her niece started the business in 2004.
Dequenne expected her niece to eventually take over, but she moved back to Thailand for family reasons. In 2008, Yupha’s relocated out of a fading, half-empty strip center and into a more lively location a few miles east, next to Pollack Tempe Cinemas. Her husband, Bill Hipps, a general contractor, designed the new digs, and the 67-year-old Yupha – a name that means “young woman” in Thai – continues to be active in the kitchen.
How did you learn to cook?
My nanny and my mom were very good cooks. I was always in the kitchen with my mom, hanging out…. In college, I cooked for my friends. I bought ramen noodles, but I spruced it up with ground pork, green onions, cilantro, fish sauce, vinegar, chile pepper and brown sugar. We don’t eat plain ramen noodles. In the 1970s, that was as close to the Asian noodles as we could get. My college friends still ask me to make it.
What’s your favorite Thai dish?
Pad gra prow. We use holy basil, fish sauce, a hint of sugar, a lot of garlic and a lot of Thai chile pepper. It’s very hot. The Thai basil we use here is not the same as in Thailand. We use holy basil. What we use [here] is Queen of Siam; it’s more prolific.
What’s the most difficult thing about cooking Thai food?
There’s a lot of ingredients in there, and I make all the sauces. Thai food is pretty labor intensive.
There are a lot of Thai restaurants in town now. What constitutes good Thai food?
I think it starts out from the ingredients. We cut all the salads fresh every morning. We don’t use the bags; I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe in shortcuts. The most important thing is that I can tell if the cook has a talent or not. I know that everyone has a recipe, but if the person doesn’t have the knack…
Give one piece of advice to someone wanting to open a restaurant.
Location, location, location. [But] there’s no one piece of advice. There’s so many of them. As long as you have good products, good location and a lot of capital.
Have you been back to Thailand recently?
The last time I went back was 2005. I’m going next year, hopefully.
What do you think of the turmoil there?
I’m afraid it’s going to be ongoing. Right now we have a clear division in the country.
Yupha’s Thai Kitchen
1805 E. Elliot Rd., Tempe; 480-839-0576
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