In Bangkok, a chef couple who only use Thai ingredients in their restaurant
At one-Michelin-starred restaurant 80/20, Chef Napol Jantraget and pastry chef Saki Hoshino want diners to see Thai food in a different light, while also building a relationship with local farmers and fisherfolk.
Owned by husband-and-wife team, Thai chef Napol “Joe” Jantraget and Japanese pastry chef Saki Hoshino, 80/20 was so named to represent the ratio of Thai ingredients to imported ones used in its dishes.
It was also Hoshino’s idea of working hard 80 per cent of the time and playing the remainder 20 per cent, yet still achieving top marks – a throwback to her strategy as a student. The restaurant vibes with a casual, edgy energy and the fine-dining dishes exude a local charm.
The couple often travels across Thailand in search of culinary gems and to build relationships with the local farmers. “They really appreciate when we take their produce seriously. And when they feel that appreciation, they put in more care and effort for the produce,” Hoshino shared.
On one of their trips, they discovered a farm that used natural processes to produce sea grapes that shone with outstanding freshness. These and other produce are used in a medley of Asian-inspired dishes that change according to the seasons. For example, shrimp and lobster make their appearance during the rainy season in creative ways, such as a seaweed-cured lobster with sea grape paste presented in an elegant flower-shaped bowl.
“When we, as Thai chefs, use more local produce and highlight it more, it helps them to grow more as well,” Jantraget said. “If we don’t consume things that we actually have, no one will grow them. And these things will die away.”
Jantraget and Hoshino’s love story is also a beautiful tale. Both met as students in Canada and worked together for a decade there. They then decided to return to their own home countries to continue their careers.
Later, when the French restaurant Jantraget was working in closed down, he called Hoshino, who then suggested opening 80/20. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2018, the couple decided to launch a 10-course tasting menu that used 100 per cent Thai produce. They also expanded and renovated the restaurant but kept part of the old wall as a nod to their history as they continue exploring new culinary grounds.
Jantraget said, “Like any wall that was created in terms of Thai cuisine, we want to break it.”
Even though the public’s reaction was lukewarm – business slowed down at first – the couple stuck it out. In 2020, 80/20 earned its first Michelin star. “After all the years that we tried to push ourselves to do something different with Thai cuisine, I feel that our work was recognised,” said Jantraget. “It was like giving myself a little pat on the back and saying, ‘Let’s keep going’.”
The humble chef credits the restaurant’s 11-strong team for contributing to the success of 80/20 with their diverse backgrounds. “What they ate and what they saw growing up would be totally different. I use this knowledge and exchange of experiences to begin the creative process,” Jantraget shared.
He adds that he wants 80/20 to become an institution for the next generation of Thai cooks who would think differently about Thai ingredients.
“My role here is not only to cook or use local Thai ingredients, but to increase the value and awareness of what we have here in Thailand. It’s my dream and goal to see Thai cuisine become one of the best in the world. I believe we have what it takes.”