“Raw ingredients used at our restaurant are now 99% of Thai origin,” Chef Joe - Napol Jantraget began, explaining how his restaurant got its name - from the proportion of Thai and imported ingredients, which is 80 to 20, used in preparing the dishes.
Before he became successful in his career, the good-tempered chef told us that he was a bad boy. His life changed when his mother moved to the US, and when he finished high school, he followed her to nearby Canada, studying tourism and hotel management at Niagara College.
In his second year at college he studied fundamental cooking and it was this point that he realised his love for cooking and began to take it seriously. He then took an intensive, one year cooking course, during which time he met his wife, Chef Saki Hoshino, who at that time was a junior student. Chef Saki inspired Joe to open a restaurant, which was the beginning of 80/20 on Charoen Krung Road.
“To me, Charoen Krung is a charming district. It is an old Thai community. Whenever I come here I can sense the old atmosphere which I was familiar with as a child,” said Joe.
80/20 has been in business for years: at first, Chef Joe and Chef Saki intended to use Thai ingredients to create French dishes. After some time they realised that the concept didn’t quite fit some of their intentions because they wanted to create dishes that were more Thai. Last year saw a major change at their restaurant, when the chef couple decided to go for “innovative Thai cuisine” stressing the use of existing Thai ingredients - the overlooked, everyday foods - and also less commonly used ingredients, to create new and different Thai dishes.
“We can use Thai ingredients for everything if we know their maturity time, like ripe mangoes and green mangoes. The stages of very green and very ripe are not available at the market, but If we are familiar with the ripening process, we can make use of them at each stage and they can all be useful. This kind of concept also reduces food waste.”
Chef Joe told us that he took advantage of being in Bangkok, the centre of good quality products from around the country, “so we can select raw ingredients produced by farmers from many provinces, such as Chiang Rai, Sakon Nakhon, Khon Kaen and Chumpon, to create the dishes at our restaurant.”
Upcountry trips also give Chef Joe sources of cooking inspiration and pleasant experiences. He told of a trip to Prachuab Kirikhan, where he went fishing with a local and found that conch (known as hoi gra jong dong) is often used there to make gaeng khua - a hot curry, while the shell is used to trap squid. The excursion gave Chef Joe an idea for his new dish at 80/20, using steamed squid in gaeng khua.
Besides following the ‘innovative Thai cuisine’ concept by having creative dishes on its menu, Chef Joe has realised a dream to run a Thai restaurant using raw ingredients that he can produce locally and to be able to cook more dishes for Thai people of every walk of life.
“Good food can be just an ordinary, simple dish. Nowadays we have fast food; we eat food that is quick and convenient to prepare but I don’t want traditional home-cooked food to disappear. I grew up with the food my mum cooked and I want that kind of cooking to continue to be enjoyed.”
Chef Joe added at the end of our conversation that Thai food is popular worldwide. A few years ago, many foreigners thought of Thai food as mostly cheap, street food. Today that perception has changed because of the value we have created, especially through the use of Thai raw ingredients that many chefs have already proven add value to their creations. “Many chefs gave inspiration to that concept; I am a part of a process to promote the growth of the Thai food scene. We need to realise that our nation has a long history. We have unique ingredients that are not available anywhere else. Thai food also draws on the traditions of royal cuisine to put the best of all ingredients together and to create a complex flavour, which is what makes Thai cuisine one of the best in the world.”
80/20 is a one-Michelin-Star restaurant 2020
80/20 Restaurant, Charoen Rd. Soi 26, Bang Rak, Bangkok
Open: 6pm to 11pm (closed on Mondays)
For information: Tel. +66 (0)99 118 2200 (12.00-24.00 น.) ** Reservation only
80/20 serves a Course Tasting Menu with 11 courses at 2,400 baht/pp, 16 courses at 3,000 baht/pp
Examples of 80/20’s imaginative dishes:
Thai Wagyu & Oyster Tartare, Pickled Garlic, Smoked Chili, Kale
Thai Wagyu beef from Mukdaharn and Surat Thani oysters, minced and mixed, then wrapped in blanched kale leaf and topped with deep-fried kale and choy sum blossoms.
Miang Kham with River Prawn and Lotus Petals
This simple snack is a surprisingly pleasing reinterpretation of the original recipe that used dried ingredients and lotus tuber, pickled lotus shoots, tangerine, water pennywort, fresh chili and fresh river prawn topped with intensely flavourful miang sauce and parceled with lotus petals instead of the original recipe’s wild betel leaves.
14-Day Aged Duck, Wild Mushrooms, Curry Rice, Garcinia & Water Bug
Cherry Valley duck, dry-aged with Regency Brandy for fourteen days, topped with spicy curry sauce with green peppercorn and lesser galangal, accompanied by various house pickles and served with aromatic curry rice. The dish has an amazingly balanced flavour.
This dish is not a typical papaya somtum as we know it, but is inspired by this spicy papaya salad. The dessert somtum is prepared with tomato sorbet, which is made from unsweetened stewed tomato, topped with white almond from the north-eastern region. Mix well before eating the dessert; the flavour is like eating a cool and tasty somtum but makes a fantastic dessert.
Flavours of Coconut
This ice-cream is made with coconut husk charcoal and coconut juice, mixed with gooey galamae. It is a perfect dessert to round off a flavourful dinner.
This cocktail is inspired by the typical Southern Thai gastronomy that usually tops fresh vegetables with coconut cream. It is a brew of dried rosella, various herbs such as kaffir lime, lime, tangerine and Oolong tea. The mixture is sifted and then poured onto ice cubes and decorated with seasonal fresh vegetables. It is aromatic and only mildly alcoholic.
Another cocktail inspired by a Southern drink; at a glance it looks like white coffee or the local ‘kopi’ coffee but contains pandan leaf, jackfruit, coconut, sugar and lime juice soaked in Lanna whisky and coconut whisky, with jelly pieces at the bottom.