This week, we’re highlighting some of America’s most esteemed food makers and innovators. Today’s featured artisans: Max and Toi Borthwick of Thaifusions.
Max Borthwick recalls that when his mother, Toi, first arrived in Seattle in 1970 from Bangkok, there were zero ingredients being imported from Thailand. So, in an effort to preserve her culinary culture, she started making them herself. “My mom used to make fish sauce from scratch and ferment it in large clay pots in the backyard,” he says, laughing. “It was a little embarrassing as a kid, but looking back on it, it was pretty cool. She really learned how to improvise.”
Today, Max and his mother have a family food business, Thaifusions; it’s a line of all-natural sauces and curries inspired by Toi’s cooking. Creating and producing the sauces is truly a family affair, just like cooking in the Borthwick household has always been.
We caught up with Max to learn more about what goes into developing Thaifusions’ sauces, what it’s like to be in business with family and, of course, his favorite dish to make using Thaifusions sauce.
What was the most important thing you learned about cooking from your mom?
Max Borthwick: To improvise. A lot of authentic ingredients used in Thai cooking aren’t available here in the U.S., especially when you’re trying to duplicate those flavors and nuances for gourmet product use.
What’s unique about the products you sell?
MB: I really feel strongly that Thaifusions being the best available, most authentic ready-to-serve sauces on the market. [It’s all about] whether or not we can retain the authenticity through availability and sourcing of all our ingredients without compromising flavors and Mom’s recipes. When we develop products and they’re not perfect, we won’t consider releasing them.
What are some of the challenges of operating a small food business?
MB: We’re a small family business, and that requires us to wear every hat necessary to operate. Thaifusions isn’t mass produced, and it’s labor intensive, which limits our capabilities a bit. We all have different skill sets in our family, and working through those issues together gives us a great sense of accomplishment. This is one of the most satisfying things about working together as a family.
What’s your favorite of the sauces, and what’s your go-to dish to make with it?
Watch Max and his mother demonstrate that his favorite chicken satay recipe below, then check out all of Thaifusions’ curries and sauces.
How to Make Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce