“We are passionate about cooking and we love to eat everything we cook.” That simple statement might seem surprising for an athletic young man who runs more than 35 miles a week and his sister, a slim, graceful and energetic young woman. Their philosophy, however, guides their cooking; fine food makes you fit, not fat. “We always grill, never fry,” the head chef of the Whole Sha-Bang said with obvious pride.
Arian Bunthanom owns and serves as the head chef at his restaurant, The Whole Sha-Bang Thai Grill and Seafood Restaurant in Mayville, New York. He serves only hand crafted haute cuisine conceived in the culinary philosophy of Far Eastern family traditions. He creates each dish individually based on a profound understanding of the flavors that already exist in the freshest of natural foods. Arian only adds the subtleties of exotic spices to enhance rather than compete with the natural essence of fine meats, fish and vegetables.
Grilled prawns, for instance—almost as large as what some common eateries might serve as baby lobsters—will permanently change a diner’s taste for traditional ‘shrimp cocktail’. “We never serve them cold,” Arian explained while tending his sizzling grill at The Whole Sha-Bang on West Lake Road in Mayville. “Cold can deaden your taste.” The creamy, white cocktail sauce, with its hints of coconut and garlic, enriches the delicate seafood flavor rather than covering it under the usual spicy, sour red dressings.
Ivori Bunthanom, Arian’s sister, owns Rud-Jutt (pronounced Lut-Jutt, Thai for “Intensified Flavors”), only steps away from her brother’s restaurant. She also serves as her own head chef serving fine Thai cuisine.
Arian and Ivori, arrived in the United States from Aranyaprathet, Province of Sa Kaeo, Thailand, on June 19, 1981 as children of a large, traditional Thai family of eight. “Dining out was out of the question for such a large family,” Arian reminisced. “So we all pitched in to cook. I’ve been cooking since I was 7 years old.
“After I proved I could be trusted with kitchen ware, my parents said, ‘OK, now you can use a knife.’ Later, I was allowed to prepare the meat and eventually I was permitted to prepare the marinade, a very special skill on our home. Everyone would eat what I made. It represented great trust.”
Cooking and seasoning are an art form when performed at the highest level. “We’re proud to be American, and we think we’ve fused something special from our culture with something traditional from America,” Arian said as he placed a meal before a customer one sunny, August afternoon recently. The whole dish had been prepared in the restaurant’s outdoor kitchen, in full view of the diners.
“A gentleman tasted one of these (it looked like a thick, juicy burger on a freshly baked bun) recently,” Arian said with a broad smile. “He said it was the best, and maybe the first, real hamburger he’d ever eaten.” He was 80 years old, a guest at Chautauqua Institution; “I’ve eaten a million burgers in my life (his wife nodded knowingly), and I’ll never be satisfied with one of those other things again, after this.” The aroma is rich and the flavor suggests one has never before quite discovered the real flavor in fine beef.
“Nature put everything in food it needs to be delicious and healthy,” Arian claimed. “Good seafood doesn’t need to swim in butter and salt, as if the chef is ashamed of its natural flavor.” Ivori and I have learned how to bring out flavors nature placed there, the kind you may never have discovered in a restaurant.”
“We would like people to appreciate all the good things we have here,” Ivori added, referring also to her own restaurant, Rud-Jutt. “They should never take it for granted. We are unique in Chautauqua County. Nobody else can offer anything like the variety and specialties we serve.”
Ivory draws on sources as far away as California and Pittsburg and as near as her own herb garden for fresh foods and spices unavailable anywhere else. “All of our dishes are prepared from one-of-a-kind recipes with authentic Thai flavors.” Diners also discover that, unlike some other highly creative, fine restaurants, Arian and Ivori’s portions are generous.
“We want to give something special back to the people of the United States for what hey have given us,” Arian said. “A remarkable and generous couple in Three Rivers, Michigan, Marion and Dwayne Deal, sponsored our whole family to come to America. They made us all feel like part of their loving family; they made America our home.” Until the summer of 2012, Arian, who is now married, with two sons and a daughter, had not seen the Deals for 20 years. “We want them to be proud of what they helped us start. I’m gong back to Michigan soon to see them again.”
The Whole Sha-Bang Seafood Restaurant takes its name from the simple fact that a patron can watch the chef individually grill every order and add every ingredient, herb, spice and hand crafted marinade, “the whole shebang,” just outside the tableside windows in the spacious outdoor kitchen.
The restaurant is elegantly appointed with rich, dark mahogany-stained tables and chairs, lofty ceilings, hand carved ornamental flower arrangements and authentic Thai, Cambodian and Laotian art on the walls.
National borders in the Far East are largely artifacts imposed on the ancient native cultures by the European colonial rule of the 19th Century. The Bunthanam family’s ancestry, by today’s geopolitical realities, belies the deep kinships that transcends their Thai, Cambodian and Laotian heritage. Their cuisine reflects the highest possible values of fused culinary traditions, now also including American.
“Please say you heard about The Whole Sha-Bang in the Jamestown Gazette,” Arian asked readers. “We’ll have something very special for you when you come to see us.”
The Whole Sha-Bang Thai Grill and Seafood Restaurant, open 11a.m. to 9p.m., is almost hidden behind the The Red Brick Farm Marketplace at 5031 W. Lake Road in Mayville, but impossible to miss in its plush, secluded garden setting beside the signed parking lot a few steps north of Red Brick.
The Far Eastern Philosophy of Haute Cuisine
At The Whole Sha-Bang
The focus is: “… on bringing the diner fresh, healthy food without sacrificing any flavor. Nothing beats the taste and benefits of grilled food. The classic aroma of smoky goodness dances with the sizzle of natural flavors to create a meal the way nature intended. By grilling food, the fat content is reduced, calories are cut in half and wait time is decreased.”