Thai with a twist: chef’s sharp humor, family tradition make for unique dining experience
By the city of Dana Point, special to the Dana Point Times
“Clean this. Cut that. Smash this,” Jib Roungchun recalls his mother saying in their native tongue as she directed his movement through the kitchen. “You are going to eat this. You are going to learn,” she said.
So instead of going out, the young Roungchun got to work, dutifully completing her traditional Thai dishes. He paid close attention to detail—attention to her vegetable selection, to the way she cleaned meat and produce and, possibly the most important element, to her chosen assortment of spices.
Today, those flavors of Bangkok are infused with more from Hong Kong, the Philippines and Chef Jib’s home of 35 years, California, where, alongside wife Noi Tanomkret, he has created some of south Orange County’s favorite—and most cleverly named—dishes.
Guests at Thai This find customary Thai dishes with a twist, along with a heavy dose of Roungchun’s sense of humor. On the menu items like Burning Lips, Oinking Around and Piggy Pork—accompanied by the daring question “Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?—make up the Go Hog Wild, or pork, selections.
Roungchun immigrated to the United States in 1980 after more than a decade traveling the Pacific. From the small village 50 miles north of Bangkok where he was educated in his family’s recipes, Jib moved to Thailand’s capital. He took with him a wealth of knowledge, passed down from generations of women who had personally cooked for Thailand’s royalty. After a decade in Bangkok, Roungchun spent four years in both Hong Kong and the Philippines. He perfected his skills and tried recipes out on friends.
“Whatever I missed back in Thailand I recreated it,” he said. “I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I learned how to cook … I am not too bad.”
When he came to the states, Roungchun worked his way from the bottom to the top. He held different food industry jobs before landing a position at Royal Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach. Over the course of eight years, Roungchun rose in the restaurant’s ranks from busboy to manager before he embarked on his own culinary venture. His first restaurant opened its doors to San Clemente in 1990. Roungchun followed with a Mission Viejo location in 1991, Dana Point in 1992 and seven other locations thereafter.
Two award-winning eateries remain—Thai This in Dana Point and Thai Juan On in San Juan Capistrano—both of which have garnered local reader’s choice “Best of” titles for international eats.
For an introduction to some of Chef Jib’s chosen flavors, peruse the “Appathaizer” menu and bid Sgt. Pepper “Ahoy” with the Yellow Submarine—shrimp delicately wrapped in a crispy pasta shell and served with a sweet and sour sauce. Then take a step back to the Bangkok of “yesteryear” with Nue Tuen, or Jib’s Yesterday named soup, a spiced, slow-cooked beef soup with lettuce and tomato. Sample Jib’s flavorful red and yellow curries, like the Red Devil—beef stewed in coconut milk with potato, onion and peanuts—and don’t forget the Alcoholiday menu’s innovative selection of cocktails.
24501 Del Prado Avenue