SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and every week this month, NewsChannel 9 will be paying tribute to members of the AAPI community making a difference here in Central New York.

This week on “Asian Americans Standing Strong,” NewsChannel 9 is featuring Sara Tong-Ngork, owner of Firecracker Thai Kitchen in Salt City Market.

Sara has been a chef in the kitchen for more than 25 years. She started her career at Lemon Grass Thai restaurant in Syracuse.

Before opening Firecracker Thai Kitchen, she served as executive chef at Bellevue Country Club.

Sara grew up in a Thai-American home, but it was never really a dream of hers to own a Thai restaurant. So, it’s safe to say Firecracker Thai Kitchen came to be…by accident!

“From the moment that I was done with Bellevue, I was kind of just open to whatever life was going to throw at me, and this is what I have because of it,” Sara explained.

Her menu is full of traditional Thai dishes mixed with an ever-evolving dynamic fusion, but it was Sara’s mother, Sally and father, T, who kickstarted her passion for cooking at a young age.

“Both my parents are from Thailand. They came here to pursue the American Dream, and I have two sisters. We grew up in DeWitt, really just grew up immersed in everything my parents had to offer and to teach us, which also comes along with Thai food.”

SARA TONG-NGORK, OWNER, FIRECRACKER THAI KITCHEN

“I would come home from after school, fix my sisters and me a snack. Sometimes it was scrambled eggs, sometimes it was ramen,” Sara said. “The rule was we weren’t allowed to use the stove. You were supposed to use the microwave, but scrambled eggs in the microwave are gross, so I would have to sneak and use the stove and make sure that it was turned off and cooled down before my mom got home so that she wouldn’t yell at me!”

Sara’s mother, Sally, was the biggest spark behind Firecracker Thai Kitchen. She recently passed away after a short and courageous fight with cancer. For Sara, there isn’t a shift that goes by where she doesn’t think of her mom and her influence.

She guides me. I can still hear her voice in my head telling me certain things to do and certain things not to do. When I think maybe I want to take a shortcut, I’m like ‘my mom would yell at me!’ So, there are things that I don’t do, and especially because she has so much influence over our menu like our firecracker rolls, which is probably our number 1 seller. It’s her recipe!

Sara Tong-Ngork, Owner, Firecracker Thai Kitchen

Of course, we couldn’t end the story without getting a taste of the Thai cuisine ourselves! Sara cooked up NewsChannel 9’s Adrienne Smith and Jack Estabrook firecracker rolls, Thai wings, and Kee Mao Noodles.

“I hope that they can taste the love in it. We really try hard to make all of our dishes with lots of love.”

SARA TONG-NGORK, OWNER, FIRECRACKER THAI KITCHEN

Firecracker Thai Kitchen in Salt City Market is open Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. Learn more about Firecracker Thai Kitchen by clicking here!