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Chef Interviews

Chef Interview: When in Bangkok

Bo.lan was opened by Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones after a stint under David Thompson of the Michelin-starred Nahm restaurant in London. At Bo.lan, Chef Bo and Jones maintain a scrupulous attention to quality ingredients and authentic recipes, at the same time serving in a modern setting.

bo.lan chefs, bangkokAsian Supper (AS): You founded Bo.lan because of the belief that the “best Thai restaurant should be found in Thailand.” Lately, it seems like you’re not the only ones that think this: David Thompson of Nahm in London has just opened up a branch in Bangkok. And another Copehagen-based Michelin-starred Thai restaurant, Kiin Kiin, just opened a sister restaurant in Bangkok called Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin. What’s behind this trend?
Dylan: Less of a trend and more of a necessity I would say. Bo: Finally, the bar has been lifted and the new standard has been set. It’s good to have followers.

AS: Thompson has caused some controversy by saying that Thai cooking is “decaying” in an interview. Care to opine?
Dylan: I’d rather leave the controversy to Mr. Thompson - I’m happy playing in my kitchen. Bo: I agree with Dylan.

AS: Have you eaten at Sra Bua or Nahm Bangkok?
Dylan: Nahm, yes several times and it’s as one should expect from someone so knowledgeable about Thai cuisine. Sra Bua – not yet, as we share the same day off!

AS: Bo.lan's name is a play on “ancient” and there are copies of royal recipes to be found at each table. What does “authentic” food mean to you? Do any of your restaurant patrons ever question the authenticity of your food?
Dylan: Of course people question the authenticity (hello … farang in the kitchen) especially as we do we try and play with the presentation. I wouldn’t say we are not traditional or authentic, nor would I say we are fusion or modern Thai. It’s simply our interpretation of Thai food. Authenticity is a subject that you should probably devote several years to when discussing Thai food but I guess primarily it comes down to ingredients, technique and seasoning. Bo: Coming from a gastronomy background, authenticity and national cuisine is a topic we like to avoid. It is culturally sensitive subject that results in never-ending discourse, with the tendency for big controversy. Also, authenticity is related to time. We like to refer to our food as our interpretation of the recipe we found together, with the produce that was accessible at the time. But yes, definitely … we get heaps of questions on that from our clientele.

AS: With Asian food in particular, there seems to be this idea that the authenticity of an Asian restaurant is related to the ethnicity of the chef. But of course no one would ever say that about, say, an Italian restaurant. Does this issue ever come up – and if so, how do you deal with it?
Dylan: The Thais are and rightly so very proud of their food heritage. That said it’s very difficult to change someone’s opinion when they have made their mind up about you or your restaurant without giving it the opportunity it deserves. Who cares what everybody else thinks there are only a handful of people in my life whose opinions really matter. Bo: The ethnicity of the Chef is irrelevant when it comes to what they can or can’t cook. We answer those kinds of questions with the same logic i.e., “Are you saying you have to have half-blood to cook fusion food?”

AS: You both have ties to Australia -- are there any identifiable Australian influences in your cooking?
Dylan: openness and some form of flexibility but a grounding or base in what we believe to be correct. Non conformity! Bo: my Australian education presented me the sustainable learning skills and I apply that to my cooking.

AS: It seems that Thai cuisine is one filled with secrets – whether recipes from funeral books, or other closely-held family recipes. Care to let us in on one of the “secrets” that you’ve discovered in Thai food?
Dylan: Recipes don’t work unless you use your heart! And don’t be too scared to push the boundaries when seasoning … you may surprise yourself. Bo: Secrets, especially with cooking, are best shared so that the cuisine lives on. That is our secret. And use your sense in tasting rater than relying on the measure of the recipe.  

AS: What’s the most popular dish at your restaurant, and why do you think it is?
Dylan: Hard to say as we change our menu quite often, so no one ever gets a chance to get stuck on one dish. But I would recommend our tasting menu -- it’s got a little of everything and is a great way to enjoy a Thai meal. Bo: Probably our rice that we source to get local organic quality rice in Thailand. And changing it often enough.

AS: What are some foods that can (or should) only be experienced in Bangkok?
Dylan & Bo: Street food is obviously fantastic, but if given the chance eat in the home of an older person -- you’ll be amazed at what they concoct. But as for one food in particular, not really … Bangkok is a melting pot with influences from all over Thailand. That said, if you can, try to find a restaurant selling lons (relish of coconut cream) they are not so common these days.

AS: Where can we find you eating, outside of at Bo.lan?
Dylan: Nahm -- not to be biased but he does great food, Krua Apsorn -- get in quick because they sell out fast, the isaan food tent on thanon naratiwas -- their hot robust flavors will blow your head off. And for more classy western food I love Le Bealieu (it’s fantastic) and Le Vendome’s lunch menu is a bloody bargain. Bo: My parents’ place

Bo.lan is located at 42 Soi Pichai Ranarong, Sukhumvit Soi 26, Bangkok, +66 2260 2962

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