Bo Songvisava is a chef with a vision. With her husband, chef and business partner Dylan Jones, they have received critical acclaim for their progressive, ethical Thai cooking at their restaurant Bo.Lan in Bangkok.
They have already made plans to become a zero carbon restaurant by next year. But they also have plans to move out of Bangkok even if this is a long term objective. The vision is already set, it is now about implementing in when the time arrives. “We want to be able to serve fewer customers a night, we want to be independent and a self-sustainable restaurant. We do not want to hire anyone as we do not want to deal with the tax office. We will generate our own power, filter our own water, manage our own waste. The dream is to create something where we will not have to deal with bureacracy,” Bo told Food and Wine Gazette when we caught up with her at GELINAZ! Does Upper Austria earlier this year.
While the place is not yet decided, Bo knows that she and her husband want to move to the South of Thailand where they can work with seafood. “For me seafood is much more interesting that fresh water fish. We will go the South where we will have access to the sea and also to the mountains to grow our own vegetables and even our own rice. We will always want to buy from producers but we want to make sure that we are self-sustainable,” she said.
Bo’s dream is to reach a point where there is minimal waste. “Zero waste is impossible but to generate the least possible waste is possible,” she said.
“This should happen in around 10 years time once the children finish school. We have to save money, buy the land, put the infrastructure in place. It will take a while,” she says.
Having dropped from her liberal arts degree to study cooking, she obtained a restaurant management degree in Australia before specialising in Thai food. While working in Bangkok, she had a chance to encounter David Thompson the chef and founder of Nahm in London which led to a two-year stint in Thompson’s kitchen. It was her that she met her Dylan who would become her husband and business partner.
Their restaurant Bo.lan is founded on the belief that the best Thai restaurants should be found In Thailand. The name Bo.lan comes from Chef Duangporn’s nickname Bo and the second half of Dylan’s name Lan. It is also a play on the Thai word for vintage or ancient, which sounds the same but is spelt slightly different. Bo.lan prides itself for working closely with local farmers and feels that it has a social responsibility to the local community. Bo.lan advocates the use of bio diversified produce and this is reflected in the ever-changing menu.
Bo tells me her children (five and three years old) have slowed her down as a chef. “But to have them slow me down is a good thing because I have more time to digest what I have been reading or what I have been finding and experiencing,” she said.
The world is becoming smaller. “We are at a point where long distances are becoming short now. It has become easy for people to travel today. It is not just European or American chefs who are travelling but also Asian chefs who have started to go outside their countries and regions to learn and grow in Europe. Then they come back and it is marvellous to see what they do.”
Bo is of the view that the world is also becoming more local. “The time when chefs used to fly fois gras half around the world is over. Everybody wants to work with local produce and I am glad that this is the case because this is the only way to make our world survive. This is the only way that we can sustain our environments and it will impact what we will be eating in future.”
She told Food and Wine Gazette that if she was not cooking in Thailand she would definitely be exploring Chinese food. “I love Chinese food but I have never had the time to learn Chinese food. China is huge, there is so much regional cuisine to be inspired. I also want to go to Latin America because the ingredients are similar to the ones we have in Thailand but the approach is completely different.
Meeting Manu Buffara at the GELINAZ! was an example of the importance of such events. “I learnt that she is making coconut cheese. We have lots of coconuts and I have an organic farmer who brings me coconuts every day so it would be great to see what I could do with these,” she said.
The GELINAZ experience was great for her because she was able to work in a team, share different views and exchange knowledge. “It is great to see chefs work and to understand why they do things differently, it broadens your vision. As a chef it is important to keep learning every day, learning never stops.”
She said that she cooks very traditional food and not fusion or molecular cuisine but this does not stop her from learning every day. “You see an old recipe and the ingredients and you reflect on how people use these ingredients. Even if the ingredient is the same, people in Thailand use it differently so you are always learning.”
She finds most of her inspiration from reading old cookbooks. “For me, old cookbooks are the main resource. Because we can find long lost recipes, people might know the name of the recipe but do not know what it looks like or what it tastes like. You can also learn from elderly people so when I am travelling in Thailand I love to try their food and to chat with them. Another source of inspiration are farmers because they are the ones who grow vegetables and can also tell you new things about how to use certain ingredients.”
Bo said contact with farmers is extremely important for her. “Without farmers, there would be no Bo. “We buy 90 per cent of our produce direct from farmers. This is great. Sometimes they bring us things which we can use in the restaurant and where we need to change the menu. I try to go grow my own vegetables but at the same time I know that I need to let them do what they do.”
But she also has a lot of respect for artisans who make their own fish sauce, their own soy sauce. “Most of the world uses industrial products but there are so many different types of soy sauce, fish sauce or chilli sauce. If we do not value the small producers we will lose everything because the people who are making them are growing old.”
Bo said me that she can buy fish sauce for 1 euro a kilo but she asks to pay more because she sees the important of the artisans’ work. “If we pay more so that it can sustain what they do, we will have the produce that we can use which is a win win situation,” she said.