In the past, little regard was given to seasonality, the environmental impact of flying a single ingredient around the world or the management of food waste; however, both diner and chef have become more conscious and educated, gravitating towards purpose-driven business and ingredients that can be traced.
While it has taken a little longer for this approach to reach Southeast Asia, it is now being widely embraced by chefs with a conscious. Here are some of the forward-thinking restaurants who are putting sustainability at heart, researching, sourcing and applying local ingredients, forging a relationship with local suppliers, and actively promoting farm-to-table dining.
One of the leading lights in Thai cuisine and famed the world over for their use of authentic Thai recipes using locally sourced ingredients, Bo.lan prides itself in working closely with local farmers, feeling that it has a social responsibility to the local community. With that in mind the two chefs Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones set out to the source, use and promote local; advocating the use of bio-diversified produce, something evident in the restaurant’s ever-changing, ever-evolving menu. Bo.lan is constantly trying to lessen its environmental impact with the goal of achieving a zero carbon restaurant. Bo and Dylan are regarded as pioneers in the industry, forming close working relationships with free-range organic farmers and small-scale fishing communities to obtain Thai produce direct from the source. They were also awarded in Paris the Tweezer-Free Kitchenof the Year during the first edition of TheWorld Restaurant Awards.
Named after a divine plant venerated by ancient human societies, Haoma brings Bangkok an exquisite cuisine and elegant ambience, together with a relaxed inside-outside dining experience. Created by chef Deepanker ‘DK’ Khosla, Haoma’s menu is driven by an ambitious culinary vision: to create an experienced landscape that stimulates not only the senses of sight, taste, smell and texture but also piques curiosity and nostalgia. The restaurant is set within a two-story space in relative remoteness, surrounded by greenery and tucked back in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit district. All ingredients are picked, plucked, pulled and pilfered from the surrounding space, sticking true to chef DK’s concept of zero kilometres. He has created the restaurant’s own mini-ecosystem; recycling water, food waste and growing 31 different vegetables, fruits, and two varieties of fish. The experience is somewhere between contemporary Thai, Japanese Zen and Khosla’s own Indian roots.
Located in the Thai capital’s increasingly hip Old Town, 100 Mahaseth is the creation of chef Chalee Kader, an Indian-Chinese chef with a formidable reputation in Bangkok for delicious, non-pretentious creations, drawn from the Northeast of Thailand and fiery food from the Isaan region. After travelling around local farms with Bo and Dylan from Bo.lan, chef Chalee was inspired to go local. “I’d overlooked it all the time I’d been a chef here,” he says. “It was good stuff! But I’d never chosen to use it.” The result is a restaurant rooted in the farm-to-table philosophy and promoting nose-to-tail cuisine; with dry-ageing fridges and animal haunches hanging from hooks. The result is local food wowing a local population, with menu staples suck as rice noodles and pig’s brain mousse, and tom kee lek hang wua (ox tail braised in herb stock and cassia leaves).
Part of the TREE global alliance, Romdeng in Cambodia’s capital focusing strongly on impact and sustainability, cooking and promoting traditional Cambodian cuisine and Khmer Cookery. Set in a beautiful colonial building surrounded by a lush garden and swimming pool, all Romdeng profits are invested in the students who train there and the social programs which support them on their journey to becoming a skilled and productive member of the community. Fronted by young, trainee chefs who visit local markets daily, menus are a forever shifting melange of flavours. Specialities include their iconic crispy tarantulas served with lime and pepper sauce, a favourite snack in these parts and the restaurant’s most ordered item(s).
#74 Oknha Ket St. (174), Phnom PenhWebsite
Open Farm Community
This iconic farm-to-table restaurant is a pioneer in Singapore, living up to its name of “community” by forming and employing an entire family of farmers and artisan producers. Open Farm Community spearhead local farming and the celebration of the island's local spirit, with the restaurant being built on a 35,000 square-foot of green land, the first of its kind dining concept in Singapore. All menu items cooked by chefs Oliver Truesdale and Phoebe Oviedo are locally sourced, grown onsite and served seasonally, with dishes such as fried cauliflower, wings, sweet potato tortellini and black bean strozzapreti.
Open Farm Community130E Minden Rd, SingaporeWebsite
Chef Han Li Guang has created a special menu that showcases a variety of flavours and textures, all sourced from local farms and markets; and resulting in Labyrinth rewarded with a Michelin-star in 2017 and the Epicurean Star Award’s Best Asian Fine Dining prize in 2017 and 2018.Ingredients are sourced locally using Singaporean farms, and as part of the Tasting Menu, guests are presented with a series of postcards that each educates on the providence of the ingredients and the genesis behind each of the dishes. Examples celebrate the farms and craftsman of Singapore, and include Uncle William’s Quail from Uncle William of Lian Wah Hang Farm; Clam Leaf Snow using clam leaf from Chinatown Market; and Ang Moh Chicken Rice with poultry from Toh Thye San Chicken Farm.
Ivan Brehm, chef-owner of one-Michelin star Nouri, forages for ingredients such as wild pepper leaf, bilimbi, red ginger buds and torch ginger. And where does he find them? He says, “in the vicinity”. The application of these locally sourced ingredients in then played over in the kitchen where staff deconstruct ingredients, techniques, and flavours to moments of connection between global food traditions. The chef uses the wild pepper leaf, a wild-grown plant that’s often eaten raw in Southeast Asia, for his black pepper fish dish. The unique creation comprises locally farmed grouper, black pepper and vanilla sauce, alongside charred pickled carrot. He also uses the sourish bilimbi fruit to pair with his delicate Hokkaido scallop tartare, toasted coconut, oscietra caviar, and pressed coconut milk dish.
Located on the busy but undeniable hip, Hollywood Road, Grassroots Pantrytakes pride in sourcing unprocessed, organic and sustainable ingredients responsibly. The restaurant is an open, minimalistic, Scandinavian space, favourite among vegetarians and omnivores alike, and dedicated to educating the public on sustainable produce-sourcing and promoting plant-based cuisine. The aim of Grassroots Pantry to “educate the community by setting a standard that promotes local, farm-to-table and sustainable food practices while serving each table a delectable meal.” The restaurant offers an extensive a la carte menu, the restaurant sets out to cater for all guests, ensuring that raw, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, nut-free and even Buddhist-friendly recipes are available. They also offer a unique Grassroots’ catering service.
108 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan, Hong KongWebsite
A refreshing take on Chinese cuisine, Sohofama offers both comforting classics and fusion dishes that reflect the multicultural society of Hong Kong. Although Shanghainese cuisines are often seen as greasy and seasoning-heavy, Sohofama is committed to serving healthy and chemical-free food. A selection of fresh, homegrown herbs and slow-cooked chicken broth replace the use of MSG and chicken powder, and they promote a special menu featuring herbals soups, with impactful names such as “Detox Potion” and “Immunity Booster”. As a farm-to-table restaurant, Sohofama took the extra step by bringing the table to the farm: the restaurant features an urban mini-farm where they grow the restaurant’s own herbs and vegetables.
Unit SG09-SG14, Block A. G/F PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St, Central, Hong KongWebsite
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dewakan is a name from two Malay words. “Dewa", the Malay word for god and “Makan” which means to eat or just simply; food. And here, it really is all about the food, not merely what is on the plate and an always impressive assembly of unique ingredients, but where the ingredients are from; chef Darren Teoh and his team always honouring the bounty and the blessing given to his land. Striving to connect the ingredients from surrounding seas, farms, mountains and jungles, chef Darren visits many of the producers in and around Kuala Lumpur himself, driving an hour-and-a-half out of town to collect oysters from Kedah himself, and travelling to farms in the north of the country to learn about under-used, local ingredients. “It’s important to work with suppliers and communities,” says chef Darren. “If there’s no demand for a product then the supply will dwindle. I’m not saying that we have to go back 50-60 years ago, but wasn’t the system back then a good system? We were eating healthier and less concerned about dying of cancer because we weren’t eating pesticides and all that. We might have been hungrier, that’s possible but we ate better. That’s what we hope people want to realize. We hope this restaurant is a small part of that conversation.”
Seksyen U1,, Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Glenmarie, Shah Alam, SelangorWebsite
Sitka’s founders have created a menu revolving around Malaysia’s natural bounties, seeing as the country is full of all kinds of beautiful, exotic treasures in the forests and farms. Co-owner, Scottish chef Christian Recomio - founder of Moonfish Cafe in Aberdeen - teamed up with Malaysian restaurateur Jenifer Kuah to launch Sitkaand Recomio has quite the reputation for scouring the land, known for sourcing much of the produce himself, meeting local suppliers and foraging for food, not just afar but in and around the restaurant grounds. Everything they use to cook is made by scratch and sourced locally, even their butter and soy sauce. Menu staples include the likes of grilled baby kai lan with kelp glaze and smoked confit yolk and roast market fish with calamansi vinegar butter, trout roe and sea prawn. A loyal customer base has ensured steady business, with locals knowing that by supporting Sitka, they are directly supporting local farmers and food producers.
Plaza Batai, 8 - 5, Jalan Batai, Bukit Damansara, Kuala LumpurWebsite
Since 2013,Grace Park- helmed by Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2016, Margarita Forés - has been serving up dishes made from sustainable ingredients supplied by a host of partner farms and artisan producers. The entire restaurant has been designed to reflect rustic living, modelled to resemble a farm it boasts countryside dining from the get go with hearty dishes actively promoting the farm-to-table approach. Menu items include organic Scotch eggs, river prawns with anchovy butter, and shellfish sourced locally from Bulacan, 11 kilometres north of Manila. Proudly Filipino, Forés is a leader and figurehead in the Philippines and across the region, recognised for her skill, passion and application of locally-sourced ingredients in a farm-to-table setting. She also created M Healthline, a diet and delivery service that creates bespoke meals with an emphasis on wellness.
Rockwell Dr, Makati, 1200 Metro ManilaWebsite
More farm-to-fork than farm-to-table, Green Pastures is all about what’s on the end of your cutlery with every ingredient meticulously sourced for its freshness, seasonality and providence, directly from the farms, ranches and fisheries in and around the Philippines. Community is at the heart of the restaurant and as the website states, “We know the story of each ingredient we serve.” Created by chef Robby Goco – who also runs Cyma Greek Taverna, taking takes 3,500 years of Greek culinary excellence and promoting to a Philippine audience - the restaurant goes back to basics, promoting a health-conscious menu with the likes of grass-fed beef and fresh vegetables actively promoted. His main advocacy has always been to support local farmers and help the local industry progress; taking food beyond what tastes good and looks good, and thinking how we can all maximise our ingredients and in doing so, minimise waste.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.