Brad Holtz and Roonie Saisombat – Lek Lek Ban.
The way some people in the hospitality industry seem able to turn on the head of a pin never ceases to amaze me. In March 2020, Brad Holtz and Roonie Saisombat were cooking and serving for 250 people at an extravagant and flamboyant outdoor event in Langwarrin for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. The following Monday, the COVID lockdowns started. The catering company the couple had spent more than a decade building from scratch was hit hard. Corporate gigs were cancelled and weddings postponed. While Brad and Roonie see promise on the horizon as the season warms up, the pair have invested much time and effort in a side gig called Lek Lek Ban. It is a Thai cuisine-based catering company that at present is focusing on a range of sauces and condiments. They are handmade on the Peninsula by the couple and draw inspiration from Roonie’s childhood memories of cooking alongside her family in Thailand.
“My grandmother was a street hawker selling charcoal-grilled pork,” says Roonie. “I learned to cook since I was two. The first dish I made was steamed rice and tom yum using the chickens we raised in the backyard.” When she was growing up, her family moved around Thailand. There she was introduced to the different styles of Thai cooking. “Some people have the misconception that all Thai food is hot, but this is not the case. Thai food is about balance. Good Thai food is about quality ingredients, and when cooked well you should be able to taste all the ingredients. They should all be in harmony.”
Roonie’s skill and knowledge of the broad gamut of different Thai cuisines saw her open a cooking school in Chiang Mai. One of her students was an American chef, originally from Pittsburgh but cooking on private yachts cruising out of Alaska. That was Brad. “I went on vacation to Thailand and fell in love with the country and fell in love with Roonie,” he says happily. “She was about to move to Australia, so I followed.”
The two settled on the Mornington Peninsula 14 years ago and have become among our area’s most sought-after caterers. Perfectionists, they pride themselves on the quality of their work but also have a remarkable creative streak. They have teamed up with Hastings glass artist Leisa Wharington for festival events and ‘cooked’ tuna on red-hot glass plates Leisa had heated in her kiln. While those types of events are a little while off just yet, as soon as they can they will throw a party to celebrate the launch of Lek Lek Ban.
In the meantime, you can head to the website to purchase your own taste of Thailand, perhaps starting with Thai Chilli Sauce, a beautifully fragrant and complex sauce made with ripe chillies, spices, and fresh garlic but no added gums like the supermarket version. Then there is the Ginger Nam Pla dressing, a fresh-tasting sauce based on Thai fish sauce layered with spices, ginger, and the tang of lime. It’s perfect for salads, green papaya salad, or to brush over meat before grilling. Roonie seems most pleased with her Coconut & Chilli Crunch – a spicy, crunchy condiment to sprinkle over dishes, made with hand-cut and roasted garlic, shallot, coconut and chilli with the fragrance of kaffir lime. The pair also hope that Lek Lek Ban will be busy this summer catering parties and functions with their authentic Thai-based menu.
To see Lek Lek Ban’s catering menu or order the new range of sauces and condiments, head to www.leklekban.com
Richard Cornish is a freelance food writer filing regular food news stories for newspapers and magazines across Australia and now each month in Mornington Peninsula Magazine.