Chefs Bo Songvisava & Dylan Jones: The sum of their past is Bo.Lan
Intro: It has been quite a journey for Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones to get to where they are today. Bo, raised in Thailand and Dylan in Australia, both educated in Australia before meeting in London while working at the iconic Thai restaurant Nahm. Years later with a passion for Thai cooking and a commitment to sustainability, at Bo.Lan they complement each other with talent, dedication and a keen sense of humor. In 2013, Bo was the inaugural recipient of Asia’s Best Female Chef award and today their restaurant Bo.Lan is positioned on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list at #19. Ann Hill, Director of Dining at Aspire Lifestyles, was curious to know about their food, what motivates them, and what keeps them laughing.
Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?
Bo Songvisava & Dylan Jones: We want the world to know more than just bastardized Thai cuisine, the real cuisine that’s common to Thai people. Thai Food has such a diversity not just in terms of ingredients but also in dishes themselves, we have so much more than just Pad Thai and Tom Yum.
AL: Bo, you grew up in Bangkok, received a Master’s Degree in Gastronomy, worked under David Thompson in London at Nahm, and you’re inspired by Bangkok street food. How has each influenced your cooking today?
BS: A Chef is the sum of their past; I’ve been influenced from my time with Amanda Gale, David and my family. What influences me today more than the ever are environmental issues; our collective consciousness and food security issues. When I cook or operate the restaurant these factors go hand in hand with local wisdom.
AL: How do you stay so connected to traditional Thai cuisine and be so progressive at the same time?
BS: Naturally, Food changes over time. We just go with the flow.
AL: What progress have you seen over the span of your careers so far? What would you like to see happen, and how are you becoming part of that evolution?
DJ: As Bo said environmental issues have taken on much more importance over the space of 10 years. When we first opened these issues were important to us but our first priority was to make the best food we could, gradually we realized that actually it’s the same thing and we’ve tried to have more holistic approach to the way we run the restaurant. We are continually evolving our identity when it comes to Thai food and we are continually learning.
AL: You are married and own Bo.lan together. Bo, you are Thai and Dylan, Australian. How was it getting used to cultural differences at work and in life? How do you influence each other? What is each other’s strength?
BS & DJ: WE WORK IT OUT, it’s like any other relationship you have differences but over time we’ve both learn to listen more, compromise occasionally and not take everything as a personal attack. Our strengths and weakness complement each other, the list of both are way to long for this interview.
AL: How does the food at Bo.lan differentiate from the other restaurants and chefs in Bangkok cooking at your level?
BS & DJ: We cook it fresh with great ingredients and try our best to do everything in house from coconut cream to curry paste and whilst maintaining Thai flavor.
AL: What has been your most memorable food destination and why?
BS & DJ: Bras in France. Everything is just perfect.
AL: Sustainability is becoming more and more at the forefront of importance for chefs. You were an early adopter, and achieved status as a zero carbon footprint restaurant. What or whom inspired the interest for you?
BS & DJ: We just came to realization that if we still want to eat great food, we need to take good care of our natural resources and environment. Carlo Petrini from Slow Food Movement inspired us.
AL: Which musician or band, past or present, would you like to cook for in a casual, private setting to chat, eat and maybe hear some of their music?
DJ: It would change depending on my mood.
AL: Which restaurant, hotel, person or place has most inspired your sense of hospitality?
BS & DJ: Six senses are pretty special properties with amazing hospitality. Bras in France and Arzak in Spain also have inspired us.
AL: One evening you get to take five chefs (present or past) to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them (aside from your own restaurant)? Why those chefs and why that restaurant?
BS: Amanda Gale, David Thompson, Anthony Bourdain, Keith Floyd and Alice waters. We’d take them to “The restaurant at the end of the Universe” (From hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy). They would be fun and witty even at the demise of the universe, plus it would be great to see David interact with a cow about to portion itself for his dinner!