Chef Deepanker about setting up this urban farming hot spot
Haoma in Bangkok is a ground-breaking urban farming restaurant in Thailand. Here, diners sit at tables among vertical layers of growing beds and leafy planters to enjoy Chef-owner Deepanker Khosla’s innovative neo-Indian dishes. Along with a wide variety of greens, the restaurant also farms its own fish, which – until they end up on the plate – provide nutrients for the plants in a neat aquaponic system.
Chef Deepanker, or DK, as he is known, has sustainability in his blood: he grew up on the banks of the Ganges in a small town in India where his family farmed almost all the vegetables and herbs they needed. After working in hotels and restaurants in India and Thailand for more than a decade, DK saved up to open his own dream restaurant by spending seven months driving around Thailand and Cambodia in a sustainable food truck.
We chat to DK about setting up this urban farming hot spot and what neo-Indian food is all about.
So, DK, what was the reception to Haoma like when you first opened – did diners understand what you were doing?
We opened the doors at Haoma in November 2017, and the reception at first was driven by me previously having been a popular chef at one of the best Indian restaurants in India. People here were not that well informed about sustainability, so diners didn’t really come for that.
Neither do they come here for that today: they come because we serve great food with innovative techniques. Creating the most sustainable restaurant in Thailand hasn’t really driven that much interest.
What was the hardest part in setting up Haoma?
The location. We are bang in the centre of the city, less than a hundred metres away from the new Gaggan restaurant [Gaggan Anand] and close to Ministry of Crab. To set up a fully functioning farm and fine dining restaurant in the city wasn’t easy.
What are your main challenges with running Haoma now?
Keeping the urban farm fully functional requires daily input, and we spend a lot of time evolving our cooking techniques and dishes – it takes constant effort.
What produce do you grow yourselves?
We grow our own fish, more than a 1,000 tilapia at the moment. And we have 17 different herbs, plants and vegetables, including kale, Indian borage, basil, mint, to name a few.
How did you learn about urban farming?
I’m self-taught, I learned mostly on YouTube and through books.
Did you work with anyone else to set up the urban farm?
I set up Haoma initially myself, but my best friend, Deepak, is now an investor. We procured our materials through a gentleman called Robert, who runs Aquaponics Thailand.
How much of the space of the restaurant is taken up with growing produce? How do you feel about sacrificing this space that would otherwise be used by paying diners?
More than 50% of the space of the restaurant is used for growing. The sacrifice of the business I would make is my contribution to saving the planet. Our biggest issue is that we are always looking to find the person who will save the Earth. I think that person is within us.
Do you have special requirements for your staff considering your urban farming activities?
Yes, we do. All staff at Haoma must turn the soil with their own hands every week, and they must work with the fish. I want them all to be one with nature and embrace their roots.
What is neo-Indian cuisine all about?
Neo-Indian is adapting pre-colonial cultures, and that’s what we have done with the food. India was colonised by the French, Dutch, Portuguese and the British. What we know of Indian food today is commercialised on a global scale; dishes such as tikka masala, kebabs and biryani don’t really come from India. India has a 3,500-year-old culinary heritage, and I am embracing the regional, real food of India.
Please describe two of your best dishes at Haoma.
Haoma in a bite – this is the dish that is closest to my heart. It is cooked with each and every ingredient in Haoma, all compressed in one bite.
Me in a bowl – I’ve lived away from home for the last 12 years and, every time I go back, I always eat my mum’s chicken curry as my first meal. I want all my diners to also be able to enjoy my favourite dish.
You grew up in a small village in India; how did you end up in Bangkok?
Yes, I grew up in a small town called Allahabad. I came here 7 years ago to open a restaurant called Charcoal, and I’ve stayed ever since.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to create a prototype of Haoma and help other restaurants be more sustainable.
Thank you, DK, and looking forward to seeing more Haoma-styled restaurants around the world in the future.
For anyone interested in neo-Indian cuisine, chef DK shares his recipe for Pondicherry Bouillabaisse.
Haoma is Thailand’s first urban farm and zero-waste restaurant, located in the heart of Bangkok. Guided by our philosophy “Grow to Give Back,” everything we do is aimed at regenerating our ecosystem, food and community. Most of our ingredients are grown on our organic farm in Chiang Mai, or locally within our restaurant. Our mission is to be a living example of what the restaurant of the future needs to look like so that it’s sustainable for coming generations.
If you are an ambitious chef who is passionate about sustainability and urban farming, visit http://haoma.dk.