By Megan Leon
Mar 23, 2022
OF THE MANY WAYS in which Thailand’s dining industry took a hit last year, a big blow was the closure of one of its most pioneering restaurants, Bo.lan, an always-buzzy fixture that paved the way for Thai-cuisine fine dining in Bangkok and across the globe. Die-hard environmental advocates, the dynamic chef duo behind the award-winning restaurant were locavore long before it was cool, but with their new venture, The Food Trust, they’re moving away from serving tasting menus and putting us in the kitchen and their suppliers in the spotlight – all in the name of social responsibility and saving the planet.
Led by Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones, Bo.lan won numerous awards throughout its 13
–year run, from Michelin stars to spots on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. These accolades, however, never defined the work of the restaurateurs. Their true achievement was to help awaken Bangkok diners and visitors lucky enough to snag a reservation to the importance of circular food systems through their connections with local farmers, fishermen and other providers – not to mention their ultimate goal of eliminating their carbon footprint.
Housed in their previous Bangkok restaurant, The Food Trust has a cooking school, a grocer and cafe, and a Thai FDA-approved food-production facility open to small-scale farmers, food producers and pretty much anyone who works in an organic manner and wants to learn how to sell their surplus. Out with the fine-diner, in with a community-focused multifunctional space meant to change the way we look at consumption. ”Our goal is to support and promote wholesome food systems that are focused on ethical and regenerative practices” Dylan says.
Dylan and Bo’s research has long served as a platform to educate and promote environmental awareness by incentivizing both sides of the create-consume chain to care. By consequence, this helps safeguard Thai food heritage and preserve the way it’s meant to be enjoyed. Despite the multitude of unique ingredients native to Thailand, they all too often get lost among imported and industrialized goods. The Food Trust reverses this cycle by putting value into local varieties from different areas and regions.
Take heirloom tomatoes or perhaps “ugly” varieties of cucumbers. Working with small-scale farmers allows for non-commercial products like these to take center stage showcasing not only biodiversity, but also supporting the local ecosystem. It’s best for the soil to grow things where and when they grow best, as opposed to trying to shoehorn standard products into all types of terrain. This is something those raised on the land have learned over millennia.
“We will sell what the villagers cook and eat themselves,” Bo says. By instilling this local wisdom, the connection between farmers and regenerative agriculture positively impacts everything from soil restoration, food-waste management and respecting local products.
The best way to learn about the food we eat is to get in the kitchen. The Food Trust offers Thai cooking classes (from half-day to longer-term courses) for aspiring chefs, home cooks or just those looking to add a new dish to their repertoire. Courses can be tailored for those with health or dietary restrictions, says Bo: “We want people to learn so they can cook at home and properly care for their health and of their loved ones.”
They host discussions about food systems, and also offer eco-living courses on topics including beeswax cloth-making, kitchen-waste management and even compost classes.
If you just want to browse the unique culinary offerings in the kingdom from one convenient base in Bangkok, check out The Food Trust grocer, which showcases all the relationships that Bo.lan developed over the past decade. Instead of farmers getting caught between large conglomerates or sneaky middlemen, Bo and Dylan partner with local suppliers, giving them in return direct access to the market. With this opportunity, a transparent revenue stream is created, thus empowering local artisans to sell what they grow directly to the consumer.
This means you can shop with a clear conscience knowing that everything you buy comes with a real story and straight from the source. While local residents will be glad of their organic eggs, organic rice and freshly pressed coconut cream, visitors will find unique souvenirs here in zero-waste toiletries, artisanal dishware, and spices.
After browsing the shelves, stop by the Zero Waste cafe for a local coffee from Akha Ama or tea that will also be serving upcycled snacks and desserts made from surplus.
In fact, farmers and other food producers can learn to turn their extra supply into these products, as well as anything from jams to pickles, which have a longer shelf life, in The Food Trust’s back-of-house Thai FDA-approved production facility. Here, they can also learn how to brand, collaborate and sell their wares. All of this knowledge leads to better agricultural practices across the spectrum, not to mention fairness in the system.
If Chiang Mai is on your travel list, a Food Trust is also in the works there under the same format and will be in partnership with Paolo Vitaletti of Appia restaurant, ethical butcher, Joe Sloane and American chef, Thai-food evangelist, Andy Ricker – slated to open late spring of this year.
For more information on The Food Trust in Bangkok or Chiang Mai: bolan.co.th/2019/garden.php?lang=en&cate=2
All photos courtesy of Bo.lan.