Napol Jantraget: Leading Bangkok’s Local Food Movement
When Napol “Joe” Jantraget opened 80/20 on Bangkok’s historic Charoenkrung Road he had little idea he’d help kickstart a fine-dining movement geared at celebrating Thailand’s underrated ingredients.
The Southern Thai-born chef, together with his pastry-chef wife Saki Hoshino, is helping push the local cuisine beyond what’s preserved in centuries-old recipe books
Building on over 10 years’ experience in French cuisine from working at Toronto’s Creme Brasserie, Joe just guided 80/20 to its first Michelin star—a deserved accolade for a restaurant that’s redefining what diners think about Thai food.
We sat down with Joe to get the story behind his game-changing restaurant.
What’s the story behind 80/20?
We started 80/20 with a concept of using 80-percent local ingredients and 20-percent imported ingredients. At the beginning our food was more like French cuisine made with Thai ingredients, due to our background in French kitchens. But as time went by, our outlook and team evolved. Now we’re cooking modern Thai cuisine with 99-point-something percent local ingredients.
What does modern Thai cuisine mean to you?
It’s about using different techniques from different cuisines in order to bring out the best in Thai ingredients, whether it’s in terms of flavor or texture. Of course, we still need to master the fundamentals of Thai cuisine in all its complexity. We try to understand the history of Thai cuisine, but we’re not trying to follow recipes, we want to create new ones.
How do you create new menus for 80/20?
We question ourselves on how we can push Thai cuisine forward, beyond what it already is. In doing so, we’re adding Thai flavors to some familiar dishes from other cuisines, like beef tartare. We also like to showcase ingredients that are in season. In the case of our beef tartare, we use Thai wagyu, and take inspiration from phad-kana-nam-mun-hoy (stir fried beef with kale in oyster sauce). Working with the three main ingredients of oyster sauce, kale and beef, we are able to create our own version of beef tartare. In our case, we use smoked poached oysters, Thai wagyu, Thai fish sauce caramel and deep-fried kale leaves.
We might take a dish like miang-khum (betel-leaf wrap). Usually it’s made with betel leaves and dried garnishes, but we want to put the spotlight on freshness. So, we use river prawns and various elements of lotus, like lotus petals instead of betel leaves, fresh and pickled lotus roots, and lotus seeds.
Some elements of our dishes we make by fermenting local ingredients in our own lab room, like
fish sauce, garum and smoked shrimp paste.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve fermented in your lab and served to diners?
Ant eggs garum.
Where do you get all the ingredients?
Some stuff like herbs we still buy from Khlong Toey Market, but we try to explore other areas. I have three suppliers that I work really closely with and one of them supplies our local community. I think that by 2022 we’re aiming to not buy anything from outside in terms of fermentation sources. We hope we can make everything ourselves. I want to have another business that would support local businesses to do the same.
Any ingredients you like using recently?
Fish. Now that we’re able to use the ikejime technique from Japan, it’s something we’re actually paying a lot more attention to right now.
How do you support local farmers or suppliers, apart from buying from them?
In the future we’d love it if we’re able to help them in terms of finding better roads or having better logistics. I think that’s the purpose of our fermentation lab as well.
Similarly with fishermen, we’d like to take the techniques we’ve learned from Japan and head down south to maybe show them to a couple of fishermen so they can process their fish.
Right now, there are no other ways to ship Thai seafood without freezing it. But if Japan can ship their seafood to Singapore and serve it fresh and raw, maybe we can apply that knowledge to Thai ingredients, too.
If we can figure out a really great recipe of garum made from prawns, crabs or other items, we could potentially cut down on the unwanted items that get caught in nets, reduce waste and create more income for the fishermen.
Food is just the end result of a pretty bleak picture for the environment now. What we eat today reflects what’s going on in our environment. That’s the challenge we face.
Thank you Napol!
80/20 ‘Episode 2’
We look forward to welcome you soon!