Top chefs embrace local produce.
A major phenomenon in Europe and the United States, the local food movement (LFM) is perhaps the most significant current food trend of all—yes, more than six-course wine dinners and guest visits by Michelin-star chefs. A direct response to the over-industrialization of food and the damage to farmland and farmers by big business, single-crop farming, the LFM is a revival of sourcing seasonal food from nearby small farms, not from countries far, far away.
At present, Bangkok’s diners still seem obsessed with fancy, foreign foods: French foie gras, New Zealand mussels, USDA beef, Australian lamb, Alaskan king crab and more. Thai produce and meat is still strictly for home use and street stalls, not five star hotels and fancy restaurants. Except that even here a rumble of counter-culture is taking place, spearheaded by a handful of inventive Thai and foreign chefs who, risking a break with money-making trends, are re-introducing us to food products made in our green Kingdom. Their hope is reduced carbon emissions, stronger local economies and, believe it or not, exciting and delicious food.
We spoke to four such chefs from four different restaurants (See Meet the Chefs below) and each had their own reason for going local. For Nate Sarakossas, owner/chef of the new French bistro, Triplets, LFM is closely aligned with the anti-global warming movement. “LFM reduces carbon emissions caused by packaging, refrigeration and long-haul transportation of food,” she says, and she’s not alone. That temple of cool, Bed Supperclub, is getting in on the act as well with their once-a-month locavore menu, where executive chef Cameron Stuart serves up a five-course set menu showcasing the possibilities of Thai-made ingredients. It’s actually part of a larger, environmental commitment by the venue, namely the 10/10 initiative where businesses pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 10% in 10 years.
Still even if you aren’t worried about saving the planet, there are more patriotic reasons to consider. This is the case for Tee Kachorklin, former sous chef at the Michelin-star Roussillon in London, and now the owner of a charming and affordable bistro, La Table de Tee. “It’s not just about going to another country, working at Michelin-star places and then coming back to work at a five-star hotel. In using Thai products, I am trying to help the Thai economy, linking food with Thai farmers, not just the cook.”
But at the end of the day, the real value of the LFM comes down to the quality of the food and in turn the taste of the dishes. “It’s fresh,” says Paul Quarchioni, former sous chef of Le Normandie and now owner of La Café Siam. “We can get in live fish and live prawns, as opposed to imported fish. If it’s caught overseas on Monday, I can only get it on Friday.” Stuart also prefers the quality and convenience of ordering locally. “With import orders you get produce that’s coming in about once a week, so fruits and vegetables end up in your cool room for a long time. But local things, I can have delivered daily.”
Eggplants With Personality
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and hippie rainbows. If it were that easy then maybe more chefs in town would be emboldened to do the same thing. For starters, Thailand still suffers from a lack of sustainable farming and agricultural infrastructure. Stuart says, “We seem to have trouble with guarantees. We do a monthly menu, so I’ll say, ‘Will this product be available for the whole month?’ Then despite getting a yes, a week into the menu, I find it doesn’t exist anymore!”
Nate agrees there are issues with sticking to local. “The demand for local products is low, so prices are still high and quality development is still struggling. We all need to use more of the local products, so the price and the quality of the local products can be better.”
Quarchioni looks on the bright side: “In Europe, if you buy fifty eggplants they are all the same shape and size, the same shade of green. You know they’ve been genetically modified, or sprayed or grown in a greenhouse. But here things are pretty much grown on farms. I can buy a kilo of eggplants and I’ll get one this size and one that size. But that’s not that important if it’s fresh.”
The Chef’s Chops
Nate admits that she does face limitations trying to cook the French-way with all-Thai ingredients. “Not only do we have to go looking for ingredients in different places,” she says, “adapting to a particular cuisine is another issue. When we try to present a certain cuisine, we must obtain the essence of that cuisine. We have to adjust a lot.”
That might not be a bad thing, considering the opportunity for innovation it affords chefs. Our city, with its lust for expensive, old-school European food, seems to struggle to hold on to young talent. Jesse Barnes of Grossi and Nicholas Joanny of Le Vendome come to mind. At many high-end hotel restaurants, we barely know the name of the chef. Perhaps the dining scene is just too restrictive. What’s a young artiste to do when the moneyed clientele wants nothing more than pizza and pasta alla carbonara or authentic foie gras, coq au vin and Cotes du Rhone?
On the other hand, the beginnings of Bangok’s LFM movement are already producing restaurants where the chef’s sensibility is the driving force behind food. Despite his French technique, Tee does not think of La Table de Tee as a French restaurant. “It’s not about French or Thai,” he says. “It’s about me, the chef. I’m saying to the customer, ‘Look, I would like you to try my personal ideas.’”
Over at Le Café Siam, the emphasis on locally-sourced products forces Quarchioni to stretch his knowledge and skills with the menu, which changes every two days. “I don’t have a menu that I have to buy food for; I buy food and then write the menu.” Far from finding it daunting, he is invigorated by the challenge. “It does keep me on my toes. Otherwise it gets boring.”
In the case of Triplets, Nate’s talent led her to defy the widely-held belief among foodies that Thai-raised livestock is just no good. “I experimented with cuts and came up with a lamb shank stew with fresh apple juice, and a marinated beef tenderloin mushroom steak, which surprised customers. They couldn’t believe the meat was from local producers.”
Hopefully, despite the long way to go, the LFM is here to stay, leading to more happy famers, inspired chefs and adventurous, but satisfied customers.
Meet the Chefs
chef/owner, Triplets Bistro
After receiving her chef’s training in Chicago, Nate returned to Bangkok with a strong local-sourcing ethos. Her French-style bistro, Triplets, serves only locally-sourced food.
• 6/F Parnjit Tower, Soi Thong Lor, Sukhumvit 55,
02-712-8066. Open Wed-Sun 6-10pm
Chatree “Tee” KachorKlin,
chef/owner, La Table de Tee
After a stint at Michelin-starred French restaurant
Roussillon in London, Tee has returned to Thailand with
a desire to share his knowledge and flair for innovation
and to support Thai farmers and meat suppliers.
• 69/5 Soi Sala Daeng, 02-636-3220. Open Tue-Sun 6:30-10:30pm
executive chef, Bed Supperclub
The new chef at Bed Supperclub, Cameron juggles the standard menu, the monthly menu, the weekend surprise menu, as well as an all-local “Locavore” set-menu that is available once a month and employs both Western and
• 26 Sukhumvit Soi 11, 02-651-3537. Open Sun-Thu 7:30-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 9pm sharp for the set menu
chef/owner, Le Café Siam
Formerly the sous chef at the Mandarin Oriental’s French restaurant, Le Normandie, Paul has opened his own restaurant with a special emphasis on locally-made products and a menu that changes every two days.
• 4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chuan Phloeng Rd., 02-671-0030.
Open daily 6:30-11pm
Coconut dumplings at Bed Supperclub
• Local ingredients: shredded coconut, palm sugar,
rice flour, coconut cream, pandanus, jasmine flowers,
• Imported ingredients: none
Grilled Snapper at Triplets Bistro
• Local ingredients: lotus root, fennel, snapper fish, potato, mushroom, tomatoes, jalapeno, hibiscus reduction
• Imported ingredient: olive oil
Rosemary-crusted duck at Le Cafe Siam
• Local ingredients: duck, rosemary, potatoes, snap peas
• Imported ingredients: olive oil, vanilla bean
Where Else to Get Local Produce
Or tor kor market
The prices here may be higher than most other markets and supermarkets in Bangkok, but that’s because Or Tor Kor has a reputation for carefully selected meats and produce, including custom-grown cold-weather veggies. We’ve spoken to many chefs, including Bo and Dylan of Bo.Lan, who say they do the bulk of their shopping here. Parking can be a drag, so we suggest taking the MRT and going home in a cab.
• Kamphaengpet Road. Open daily 6am-8pm
Klong Toei Market
Catering to Bangkok’s many workers from the Northeast, this market is way cheaper than Or Tor Kor, but way crazier, too. Melting ice is dripping, chickens are squawking, butchers are hacking up large animals piece by piece, all before your very eyes. It’s an amazing, if squeamish, reminder that food comes from the ground and from cute, furry animals, not from boxes and plastic wrap.
• Rama IV Road. Open daily 6am-2pm
Lemon Farm is all about creating communities of farmers in order to source organic, macrobiotic, and yes, honest-to-god made-in-Thailand food stuff.
• J. Avenue in Chaengwattana, 02-575-2222. Open Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat-Sun 8am-9pm. For other branches, see www.lemonfarm.com
Royal Project Foundation
A local wonderland of hard-to-find produce
Founded by His Majesty the King, The Royal Project Foundation in Chiang Mai has a three-fold mission: eliminating illegal cultivation of opium, promoting reforestation by dissuading hill tribes from slash-and-burn farming methods and strengthening the livelihoods of farmers competing with cheaper produce imported from abroad.
While most locally-minded chefs receive bulk deliveries straight from Chiang Mai, us home cooks can also partake in their fare. The annex store in Bangkok, the Doi Kham Shop next to Talat Or Tor Kor, receives fresh produce a couple of times a week and stocks locally-grown rarities like jalapenos, artichokes, Swiss chard, Japanese pumpkin, radicchio and much more.
• 101 Kamphaengpet Rd., 02-299-1551. MRT Kamphaengpet.
Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat-Sun 7am-6pm
Comparing costs on these ‘luxury’ goodies.
• Artichokes (Australia), B119 for one at Villa Market
• Artichokes (Thailand), B75 for two at the Doi Kham Shop
• 2007 Terra Maltum Altum Reserve Chardonnay (Chile), B999 at Wine Connection
• 2009 Monson Valley Colombard (Thailand), B600 at Wine Connection
• Starbucks Espresso Blend (International), B490 for 250g at any Starbucks
• Doi Tung Espresso Roast (Thailand), B234 for 200g at Villa Market
• Fresh sage (USA), B89 for one packet at Villa Market
• Fresh sage (Thailand), B10 for one packet at the Doi Kham Shop
• Buffalo mozzarella (Italy) is B135 for 100g, at Villa Market
• Buffalo mozzarella (Thailand), B85 from 125g, at Villa Market