Episode #68: Deepanker Khosla
The India-born chef of Haōma in Bangkok, Thailand.
Deepanker Khosla, or DK as he is often called, is the chef of the Michelin starred restaurant Haōma in Bangkok, Thailand. He was born in Allahabad, India and breaks a lot of misconceptions of who an Indian chef is supposed to be and what Indian food is supposed to look like.
Khosla has managed to make the sustainability of his restaurant something more than just a marketing ploy. Right in the middle of chaotic, polluted Bangkok, surrounded by glass and steel, he’s created an oasis on less than an acre with an aquaculture system that supplies all of his freshwater fish based off a YouTube class he took part in. He harvests rainwater that he purifies and serves to guests as still or sparkling. He grows all of his garnishes, he houses honeybees and has planted all kinds of different trees. He has actually been able to improve the air quality of the restaurant and, importantly, he has been effective in lowering his overall costs in running the restaurant, which allows him to pay his employees better and make them happier.
We discuss how he lived in his food truck prior to opening the restaurant and how he drove it all over southeast Asia, from beer garden to beer garden, as well as where his ideas come from and how he defines what Neo-Indian food is. We also talk about how limited the idea of Indian cuisine has been around the world and how people like himself and Unapologetic Foods in New York are changing that. There is so much going on we didn’t even have time to talk about how he turned his restaurant into a soup kitchen during the pandemic, feeding more than a hundred thousand people.
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On creating a bubble in a polluted city
Nick: “So, you're doing all of these very green things in this very kind of chaotic and would you say polluted city? Is Bangkok polluted?”
DK: “I would. It is very polluted and at the same time, it's very populated and at the same time it has the highest consumption per capita of plastic anywhere in Asia. That was a driving force. Where we are located is 750 meters from where the trains intersect. It's the busiest transit in all the city where we are located. If you pin the center of Bangkok city, it's around 700, 800 meters away from where we are. And we decided to do it here because you and me, Nicholas, we are not leaving the city, we are all coming into the city. The sustainability needs to come into the city. It doesn't have to be four hours away from the city in a valley.”
Nick: “In the middle of all this kind of chaos, concrete and steel, is the idea to change minds and hearts when they enter the restaurant? What happens when someone enters the door?”
DK: “Honestly Nicholas, nobody, nobody, nobody in this part of the world gives a fuck about what we're doing.”
Nick: “You don't think?”
DK: “We are not doing it for people. We are not. As I said, I'm not a vigilante. I'm doing this for myself. Because it feels right. I'm selfish. I want to save the planet for myself. Not for anybody else. I want to create a better tomorrow for myself. I want to live in a bubble. And I'm creating this bubble for me and my people who work for me and my family. While the city has a PM, which is particles and molecules in the air, of pollution 127, 128, when we check in on our area, it's at 96, 97. So, we are already making a difference where we are. We are breathing better because we planted around 11,000 trees in the area where we are. We are breathing better. And I think that's already an accomplishment for what we're trying to do.”
Nick: “But don't you want it to rub off? Don't you want to have like a little bit of impact for everyone that comes in the restaurant to say, Holy shit I am in this restaurant and I came here to eat and I am breathing better?”
DK: “When you come to Haōma we take you through the entire process. We open every card we have up our sleeves. We make you see the entire system. Our hostess runs you through every single thing that we do at the restaurant and at the farm before you sit down for dinner. The first thing that you eat when you come to the restaurant is whatever has not made it to your plate. From the 10 courses you will eat tonight, whatever did not make it to the plate made it to a single fermented bite that you eat before you come to sit. The second bite when you come to the restaurant and you eat in the garden is the fish that we are growing on premise in a city like Bangkok, 750 meters away from the center. That's chaos. If it doesn't, ring a bell, then God fucking knows what rings a bell, my friend.”