Deliciously sustainable: A visit to Tucson's Senae Thai Bistro

Thai style fish entree

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues spread across the globe and around the U.S., the restaurant industry has been hit particularly hard. Stay-at-home orders have decimated these establishments, forcing many talented small-business owners to move to reduced hours, lay off staff members, or close outright. Fortunately, for the time being some businesses, such as Senae featured below, have been able to continue offering food for take-out and delivery. If you live in the Tucson area, consider ordering from Senae today! Or, wherever you are, remember to keep supporting local businesses and restaurants. 

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Alaine Janosy. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Alaine works as an independent sustainability consultant specializing in agricultural production systems and procurement. Through this work Alaine engages with companies to create, enable and expand strategies that drive adoption of regenerative farming practices.

Opened in 2016, Senae Thai Bistro in Tucson is owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Amonwadee “Dee” and Jim Buizer. The restaurant name, Senae, which translates to “charming” in Thai, is also a combination of the couple’s children’s names, Danae and Sean. Chef Dee Buizer was born in Bangkok and moved to the United States when she was eleven. She brings more than thirty years of restaurant experience to Senae Thai, having owned and operated restaurants in California, Maryland and elsewhere in Arizona. Having grown up around restaurants — her mother opened the first Thai restaurant in San Francisco in 1968 — Chef Buizer never imagined she would follow in her mother’s footsteps, but international travel cemented her passion for food and cooking, which ultimately became her career path.

The couple moved to Tucson when Jim accepted a new role as professor of climate adaptation and director of the Climate Adaptation and International Development Program at the University of Arizona. Once settled in Tucson, Chef Buizer noticed a dearth of Thai restaurants in the area and decided to open Senae Thai to fill the void. Chef Buizer’s expertise in Thai cuisine and Jim’s work as a climate and sustainability scientist combine to make Senae Thai more than just a place to enjoy a good meal.

Group eating meal

Sustainability and supporting the local community are important to the restauranteurs, and this emphasis shines through at the restaurant. A living wall features prominently in the restaurant design, and waste reduction, as well as water and energy conservation are foundational to the restaurant’s operation.

Chef Buizer wants the subtle flavors of her upscale Thai cuisine to shine through so she focuses on sourcing locally as much as possible in order to work with the freshest ingredients. Her emphasis on local sourcing was the catalyst behind a partnership with the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program (CSGP). This program places university student interns at community and school gardens in underserved Tucson neighborhoods. In 2019, 24 schools and 3 community sites participated in the CSGP’s garden-related programing. Chef Buizer collaborates with the program to grow many of the vegetables and herbs that feature in the dishes at Senae Thai. Conscientious sourcing is also evident visually, with each dish thoughtfully presented to bring out the beauty of the ingredients.

Thai curry dish

Recently, Chef Buizer’s refined cuisine was recognized with an award from the Thai Ministry of Commerce. In 2018, Senae Thai was awarded the official Thai Select Distinction in recognition of the restaurant’s commitment to promoting authentic Thai cuisine outside of Thailand. Shortly thereafter, Chef Buizer was one of only 32 chefs worldwide and one of only seven chefs in the United States to be invited to the THAIFEX 2018 International Trade Exhibition in Bangkok. Chefs are invited based on their creativity, innovation, and preservation of authentic Thai food abroad.

As someone who has traveled to Bangkok and fallen in love with the food, it can be difficult to find Thai restaurants outside of Thailand that truly capture all of the cuisine’s amazing flavors. Senae Thai is one of those restaurants.

As we navigate these uncertain times it is more important than ever to have a robust network of food and agriculture policy leaders to make sensible and responsible decisions. Could you be one of those people? Learn more about answering this call by checking out the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Program at ASU