Haoma: How Bangkok’s Urban-Farm Restaurant is Showing the Way Forward
A chat with Deepanker Khosla, the young (and very passionate) chef behind Haoma.
Publish Date: 20 January 2020 / Story by: Carl Dixon
Deepanker Khosla, aka Chef DK, grew up in Allahabad, India (“a small town in the middle of nowhere”) but for the past six years has lived in Bangkok, where he’s the mastermind behind Haoma—a rising force in fine dining you definitely should be following. This “sustainable-ecosystem” restaurant tucked deep down Sukhumvit Soi 31 wants you to question everything about the way you eat.
On Jan 31 2020, Chef DK will join TAAN’s own Chef Monthep “Thep” Kamolsilp in the kitchen at Siam@Siam Bangkok for a collaboration dinner that will marry modern Thai and Indian cuisine while championing local, sustainable produce. We spoke to the passionate 29-year-old chef ahead of his visit about his upbringing, love of organic produce and what he calls "Neo-Indian" cuisine.
Check out the video with Chef Thep below or scroll on for the extended interview.
When someone walks into Haoma, what are they seeing here in the backyard?
Since we started, we’ve conserved over 100,000 litres of rainwater; we’ve grown over 2,000 fish. We turn all of our waste from the kitchen into fish food; what the fish rejects, we turn into compost. With that compost we do 280 metres of vertical farm and 80 metres of flat aquaponics. We’ve grown over 11,000 plants here. When guests come to the restaurant, the hostess takes them on a tour of the garden, and gives them a rundown of Haoma’s true spirit and soul before they put the food in their mouths.
What inspired you to open a place like this?
Haoma is freedom. It’s life, nature. I wanted to run a restaurant that actually expanded my life as a chef, where I could give back to the environment, as the longevity of the environment lets me be a chef for longer.
Haoma serves Neo-Indian cuisine—what does that term mean exactly?
From my looks, the way I talk, the tattoos on my arms, I don’t look Indian, but I’m very traditional. And that is represented in the food at Haoma. The food, when you look at the presentation or ideas, it does not look Indian. However, when you put it in your mouth and you hear the story behind it, it’s absolutely Indian. That’s Neo-Indian cuisine.
At what point did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
I was 17 and I didn’t make it into the armed forces. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all. My mum filled out forms for three different universities: one hotel school, one advertising and one mass communication. The hotel school was in a university town called Manipal, which has London-like weather and an incredible frat-house vibe. I went there to check out the place with my dad and said straight away, “I’ll take it.” That was with no idea of what being a chef would be like. I went through four years of culinary school and I’ve been cooking since I was 17.
And what brought you to Bangkok?
I was running what was then the number one restaurant in Chennai, called Peshawri—250-300 diners per night, fine dining. The guys at Charcoal [a Bangkok Indian restaurant] contacted me and flew me down here to cook for them, I cooked a 20-course tasting menu for them and at the end of the meal they threw me a number, it was a "Godfather" number—an offer I couldn’t refuse. I went back to India, wrapped it up and a couple of weeks later I was back in Bangkok. I was 24 years old.
Has there been much recognition of what you’re doing here, back in India?
India is a very liberal country. There are 1.4 billion of us. So there are two ways to look at it: a) they don’t give a fuck; and b) they are accepting of everything. I believe it’s a blend of both. Most don’t really care what I do, while some are happy at the way I’m evolving the cuisine. To be honest, I’m actually trying to cook it the way it was cooked back in the day. I believe that the generation of our parents were way more reckless than we were, and they were not as liberal and understanding as our grandparents. They were the ones who fucked the entire environment. The chefs in their 40s and 50s, too, had also already tampered with Indian cuisine and marketed it in such a way that what we know as Indian cuisine is not Indian cuisine at all. It’s from Persia; it’s kabab, naan bread, biryani… So I’m trying to cook Indian food. You won’t find any biryani or naan bread here.
"I wanted to run a restaurant that actually expanded my life as a chef, where I could give back to the environment, as the longevity of the environment lets me be a chef for longer."
Tell us about the produce you use.
We have a sister farm in Chiang Mai, in Mae Rim, where most of our saplings start. Every week or two, the produce comes in, we plug it into the system and let it grow. There are a few other producers we work with. A dairy producer that’s ethical called Sunrise Dairy, out of Pakchong, Khao Yai, which does some great stuff. We work with Prasun Farm out of Khao Yai as well: this is where our ducks, chicken and eggs come from and they are USDA organic certified. Great people. They’re serious about it. Some farms near Bangkok might claim to be organic, but when you go there… You know, I’m really anal about this. If somebody tells me they’re organic, I actually go there and test the soil. It’s very easy, I have a kit right here. If I claim to be 100% organic, biodynamic and sustainable, I’m responsible and answerable for that. If you are lying as a restaurateur, as a farmer, as a supplier, as a vendor, you’re corrupting the entire ecosystem. For me, that is criminal. But the understanding is so minimal on this topic. I know why a lot of these sustainability movements don’t go on: because people who are really passionate get sick of it. If you keep knocking on the door and nobody opens, how long can you keep going? Now this is personal; I don’t want to be a vigilante anymore.
How else do you spread your sustainable message?
Now we’ve started a new project where if you come and dine with us we’ll give you a packet of seeds. You take the seeds home and you plant plants. If it survives, then you get a 50-percent discount on your next dinner. We’re serious about this stuff. We do coriander seeds, the easiest seeds to grow. If you can’t make coriander seeds grow then you need to start watching YouTube. So if someone says they can’t grow seeds, we’ll give them a plant. Just bury it and it will become a tree.
What can you tell us about your upcoming dinner with TAAN?
We will bring our philosophies together. TAAN is a hyper-local restaurant and we are a sustainable-ecosystem restaurant. Last time we worked on defining for each and every dish the distance its ingredients had travelled to make it onto the menu, to showcase how short your carbon footprint can be. One step we did on our last menu, and one that we will do again with this pop-up, is a zero-kilometre dish, a dish with no carbon footprint, which is made entirely with produce grown on the premises of Haoma.
What’s it like working with Chef Thep?
I first went down to TAAN four or five months ago. Thep just walked me around the kitchen and we started tasting a lot of stuff. I still remember tasting the Thai iced-tea sorbet for the first time and being completely blown away. I was like, we should cook together. We did and it was pretty phenomenal. He drove his own supply truck when he came down to Haoma and I love that because I’m exactly like that. I really like the idea of Thep doing all his own prep himself, driving his own truck, wrapping things up himself and then leaving after the pop-up, and this was just true respect. That’s what I told him. A few weeks ago, I gave him a call and said we should cook together one more time. It will be so much fun and I can only imagine what my Indian food would taste like with those views from on top of TAAN.
You’ve been here six years now. What do you love about Bangkok?
I love the idea of Bangkok letting me be. I can be 700 metres away from the city centre, in the most crowded city in Asia, and run a sustainable business. I can spend 5,000 baht on a great meal or I can spend 50 baht on a great kaprao as well. This is the perfect blend of big city, small town.
What else is in the pipeline for you guys?
We’re now going for certification with Food Made Good, a UK-based company which certifies the most sustainable restaurants in the world, and as part of that they will be testing all of this produce that we have. We’ve gone 100-percent water positive; now we’re conserving all of our rainwater. The plan this year is to turn the restaurant solar.
Chef’s Talk: Chef Deepankar “DK” Khosla at TAAN
Thailand’s local-food pioneers, TAAN and Haoma, are coming together to host a special event that will combine the best in modern Thai and Indian cuisine. TAAN’s Chef’s Talk events are bi-monthly events where leading chefs visit Siam@Siam Bangkok to collaborate in the creation of special menus, as well as share their philosophies and experiences with guests.
When: Friday, 31st January 2020, 6pm
Where: TAAN, 25th Floor, Siam@Siam Design Hotel Bangkok, 865 Rama 1 Road (Near BTS National Stadium).
Price: THB 2,900++ per person
Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org or 065-328-7374
Where to Eat in Bangkok, According to Chef DK
Haoma and TAAN are awesome places to start, of course, but here are some other top tips for adventurous eaters.
“This is the first place I take family and friends. That’s my favourite restaurant in Bangkok, no questions. The meal is phenomenal. That’s also where I took my wife for the first date, so it’s even more special. I love the barracuda with cumin leaves and the massamun chicken with young chicken. Oh man, now I have to go eat there.” www.facebook.com/sritrat
Pad Kaprao on Petchaburi Soi 36
“My favourite pad kaprao [chili-basil stir fry] in the city is a vendor right opposite Circle condominium on Phetchaburi Road. He sits outside the 7-Eleven on Petchaburi Soi 36. He also does amazing fried frog legs with some nam tok [herbal] sauce on it. It’s mind-blowing. He’s open at night and basically takes care of all of the drunk people from Shock 39 [a nightclub]. Sometimes I’ll wrap up service and take my bicycle and eat at his place.” Open in Google maps