Hello my Nomads!!
So, if you haven’t noticed I recently celebrated a Birthday and thanks to my amazing father and stepmother, got to take a little two-week break from writing. In those two weeks, the night before my birthday in fact, I decided to treat my travel companion and I, Geeky Greeky as I have dubbed him, to a nice dinner out. I have a little tradition of my own of always treating myself to Indian food on my birthday. One; because it’s amazing, and two: because it makes me feel slightly sentimental and over-all happy.
It happened that a few days before this incredibly important date (the day the world became utterly screwed for Alice Kirkham had finally entered it to wreak all the havoc possible) I had been researching sustainable/organic initiatives in the Bangkok City area to interview for future articles (as one casually does day to day) and stumbled across a website for a sustainable urban farm restaurant… and get this, it was Thai-Indian fusion. Now I don’t believe in luck or fate or any of that but that search result could not have been coincidental. I felt like the electronic link was calling me through the screen, so of course I clicked on it and discovered my own Utopia. A sustainable nomad’s, foodie’s paradise where fine dining is melded with direct 0 kilometer urban farming. Meaning the restaurant was the farm and the farm the restaurant. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Without thinking and with barely a glance at the price list I reserved a table for two on January 6. Their menu was simple, you either participated in the 9 course tasting menu or the 13 course. Of course I opted for the 13 course paired with the exceptional wine tasting menu. What can I say, my Berkeley foodie parents raised me right and screwed me over so that my biggest expense will always be delectable and incredible food.
I had made the booking on the 3rd of January, so I had three days to impatiently anticipate what wonders I’d taste and discover at this farm restaurant and plenty of time to do some extra research just in case I got the opportunity to speak with the Chef himself. Let’s just say that the more I researched and found out about Haoma, the more I questioned if something so amazing and perfect could possibly be real. The name of the restaurant, Haoma, comes from one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions known as zoroastrianism, an ancient indo/persian faith that believed that the Haoma plant could be made into a sacred concoction that when drunk granted the user health, fertility, and immortality. The restaurant’s name is coupled with the flower of life symbol, both very purposely researched and picked to describe the restaurants motives and intentions; to nurture people with food and create a symbiotic relationship between the consumer and the ingredients in every dish. Their elegant website explained that their core value was to respect nature by sourcing everything locally and in a sustainable and organic manner. This was followed by a description of their cuisine that simply stated, “Effortless, yet impeccable. Extravagant, yet minimal. Authentic, yet unconventional.” The descriptions of both the food and the space and the obviously modern yet eco-friendly and down to earth style in which it was all presented made it seem all the more interesting to me as a modern yet sustainable nomad searching for places that held beliefs identical to Haoma’s. Their biggest selling point however was the fact that they grew everything they used on the site of the restaurant or on their local sister farm based in Chiang Mai. A fact strengthened by their second key slogan, “We grow what we cook, we cook what we love.”
Haoma is Bangkok’s first Urban Farm Restaurant, a trend that is slowly appearing in small pockets across the world but is primarily found in places such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle Washington. Outside the U.S there are only a few other examples of this kind of fine dining model, and for Asia this concept is quite unique and new. Urban Farm dining mixed with 0 Kilometer (or 0 Mile) sourcing introduces the concept that we should (and can) be growing on site what we eat and consume.
Commonly fancy schmancy fine dining restaurants feel the need to import specific ingredients from the places around the world where those specific ingredients are most popularly produced in order to please their clientele. This is not to say that those ingredients from those specific niche pockets of the world aren’t incredible and don’t deserve the fame and price tag, but one can generally produce similarly high quality products locally enough with time and care.
It is also important to remember that if you would like to eat the highest quality food or drink the highest quality wines, the best ones are going to be those that source their ingredients; meats, veggies, and fruits, locally. They will be ripper, fresher, and have the sustainable bonus of not creating such a large carbon footprint in production and transportation. So, if you’re living in Thailand for example, it may be very hard to find good olive oil but why would you want too when you have access to amazing local delicacies like freshly made coconut oil? The Chef and staff of Haoma understand that importing top quality ingredients from around the world is a waste of time and energy especially when they can grow and raise equally delicious ingredients right in their backyard with a much smaller carbon footprint. This way they can also ensure that every ingredient they use is organically and sustainably produced for it was produced by them! The only items on their menu that they do import are their organic, sustainable, and bio-organic certified wines that they specifically select from expert and environmentally conscious wine producers.
Haoma’s farm to table/zero waste approach has manifested into a unique dining experience in and of itself.
Built into the walls of the restaurant and set up right beside the dinners tables are a series of vertical farming shelves that grow thirty seven different species and varieties of edible greens, all of which are incorporated into the many exquisite dishes. The restaurant uses completely recycled water to water all their crops, a unique system that also incorporates an aquaponics system in order to naturally filter the water and provide a safe and clean environment for the three species of fish that they also breed on site. These fish are bred in large basins on the outside patio where guests can also sit and enjoy their incredible meals.
While Haoma is not yet carbon negative, meaning they still create a small carbon footprint as a restaurant, they hope to be by the end of 2019, another unique goal that sets Haoma apart from your average fine dining restaurant. Haoma aims to be as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible, this can be seen through the production of their dishes and ingredients as well as in the design of the restaurant itself. The converted two story Thai town house has been remodeled using completely recycled building materials. The new age, rustic, back to the earth vibe that the main dining room emits, makes one question if they’ve entered a hipster coffee shop in brooklyn or a high scale restaurant that’s located in a rainforest.
When it comes to the cuisine itself, Haomas’ head chef Deepanker Khosla (D.K. to anyone who speaks with him) and his hand picked team of expert chefs keep to a strong No-Vegetable-Left-Behind mentality.
D.K’s hope is to be a restaurant where, “Innovative gastronomy and sustainable practices find a harmonious balance.” To achieve this D.K. and his team use only seasonal and homegrown ingredients mixed with fresh produce sourced only from farmers, breeders, and fisherman in the Bangkok City vicinity, with the exception of the ingredients grown on their completely sustainable and organic sister farm in Chiang Mai. They are committed to protecting the environment and to maintaining the fair treatment of every being along the food chain.
While the restaurant and cuisine are all dedicated to being eco-friendly and sustainable, Chef D.K. has yet another purpose that he hopes to bring forward in his dishes. He describes the dishes he cooks as, “My best interpretation of asian cuisine driven by my love for Indian ingredients and my deep Indian roots. I want my dishes to be an experience. I want you to feel the ingredients roots, where they were grown and how, as well as peak the tasters interest and feelings of nostalgia.”
As an individual that was lucky enough to embark on this foodie experience I must say that D.K.’s hopes have most certainly been met. When we arrived at the restaurant we were immediately greeted by a kind server who showed us to our seats. As promised the moment I walked into the building I was transported back to some of my favorite hipster coffee spots in east oakland. The recycled raw wood walls were contrasted by the emerald greens of hanging ferns and herbs that sat in clean modern pots tethered by twine to the ceilings rafters. The immaculately set tables matched the interiors style by providing each dinner with a set of wooden utensils and shiny black porcelain plates. There was a chill jazz/house playlist playing in the background that set everyone in the space at ease, a more appropriate cool music choice compared to the high strung classical music I have found at most upscale restaurants. We were immediately served by two smiling waiters who poured us glasses of water and gave us a menu describing the evening’s tasting menu.
Now, I could continue by giving you an elaborate description of each and every dish, all of which I can perfectly remember and recollect to you, but I’m afraid that may end up extending over several tens of pages. So I have left you elaborate descriptions of each dish next to their photographs, all of which are provided for you below.
What made this experience even more unique and memorable was my personal interactions with Chef D.K. After the meal, my companion and I sat outside to simply digest the evenings delicacies, we were the last in the restaurant and it was nearly 11:30 at night. We watched as the staff inside began clearing up the dining room after the busy night, I was dying to speak to D.K, if anything to just tell him how blown away I was by not only his food but his mission as a chef. Geeky Greeky nudged me and motioned to the door, “just go up and ask to speak with him.” He said. I nervously stood up and walked slowly to the door.
The maitre d saw me approach and smiled, after a quick word he hurried back to the kitchen to retrieve Chef D.K. Although he had been personally serving us all night, as he does with every guest that comes to Haoma, I hadn’t yet had the chance to really take him in. The first thing he did was greet me with open arms and a huge smile. The warmth that emanated from him made me like him immediately. He was younger then I had expected as well, he later informed us that he was only 28 yet he was running one of the finest restaurants in Bangkok and was possible up for a Michelin Star in the coming year. He offered us both a beer and took us on a tour of the facilities. Although I had read so much about the place to actually stand amongst the vertically growing fauna was something out of this world. The greenhouse/dining area had a peaceful sense of serenity that allowed any one who stood in it to fill their lungs with clean fresh air and take a long much needed breath. Although we were standing in the heart of the giant metropolis of Bangkok, I felt in that moment that I had been transported to some faraway secret forest in the high jungle mountains of Thailand. The high walls that drooped in greenery stood around us blocking the night hustle and bustle of the busy streets that hummed just fifty yards away. All you could hear was the soft trickle of the aquaponics system and the melodical clicking and chirping of insects that too had found sanctuary here.
We sat there with D.K for hours, talking late into the night. He told us of his life back in New Delhi, where he was originally from, and how he spent countless hours standing in that very spot with his hands in the dirt, tending to the many plants that grew around us. This restaurant and these plants were obviously his babies created and nurtured with his heart and soul. What I found most interesting about D.K, however, was what drove him to be so zero-waste as well as sustainably conscious in his work as a chef. The time he had spent in India and the experiences he had taken away from his home had made him determined to find an answer to world hunger and malnutrition. He told us that for many years he had worked in a handful of restaurants and the biggest common factor that he had came across no matter the standard of restaurant was the amount of good, edible food that the restaurants and chefs trashed. Coming from a country where 14.8% (195.9 million people) of the population is malnourished and starving this is a hard fact to stomach. He was baffled that restaurants, both in and out of India, could allow this much waste to go unchecked when so many people could be fed by the so called ‘scraps’. This realization inspired D.K to work for a variety of charitable food and cooking programs that worked to feed malnourished children and the homeless around Thailand and India. He ultimately hopes that Haoma will set him up with a base on which he can create his own charity program that works to inform restaurants about food waste and collect and disperse so called, “food waste” to those in need.
The genuine care that Chef D.K. holds not only for his food but for his fellow mankind is inspiring in more ways than one. His passion and enthusiasm for new tastes and eco-living and cooking will make each and every dinner lucky enough to experience his cuisine and think twice about where and how they source their own food day to day. After getting to know the mastermind behind the farm and kitchen and learning why he has put so much energy into this sustainable paradise I found myself dying to get involved and help in anyway I could. A feeling I am sure you will share after spending a night in Haoma’s energizing yet soothing atmosphere. If you find yourself in Bangkok I can not recommend visiting Haoma enough. In fact its enough of a reason to fly to Bangkok all together.
The Delicious Meal
Alice, I feel likeI just took a lovely trip to Thailand via your lively writing. Keep them coming.