To create the most utilities with the least environmental impact
Many people who grew up with interest in food might dream about a food-focused career. For Dharath ‘Tot’ Hoonchamlong, he is an Environmental Manager at Bo.lan; a Michelin starred Thai restaurant in Bangkok. Unlike other environmental specialists, this position is rare for local restaurants to have full-time and in-house.
He explains, “My background has always touched this field.” Undergraduate classes in food security and urban planning led him to a more interdisciplinary approach in graduate school. He left New York with a master’s degree in Food Studies, knowledge in food anthropology and experience from NYU Urban Farm Lab.
Now that he focuses on sociology, urban farming and sustainability aspects, he grows both plants and ideas. He continues, “I am lucky to be given the opportunity to navigate independently.” Food waste is his main responsibility, including the system and implementation. While zero waste is ideal yet unlikely, he ensures that the least goes to landfill in their capacity.
Chef Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Chef Dylan Jones, co-owners of Bo.lan have been active and vocal about food and environment as in how to preserve the food heritage in Thailand and keep the biodiversity alive with ethical sourcing and support for the locals. To stay in-line with what the two chefs are advocating, Tot experiments with holistic methods. He contributes daily to community-driven project developments by reaching out to various individuals. The goal is to nurture an open educational space for the team and the public as well as alternatively upcycle or collaborate with local farmers, academia and artists to create the most utilities with the least environmental impact.
He works with the kitchen on the restaurant’s ongoing process which is not limited to turning egg shells and shrimp shells into chicken feed with reusable sealer bags, used cooking oil into soap and food scraps into compost. Wine bottles are also used to structure their spiral garden bed—and soon transformed into drinking glasses for the dining room. He then guides me around Bo.lan Edible Garden which he manages all day long on non-operating days.
When raising the topic of scepticism about contamination in urban farm produce due to the pollution, he replies, “The idea is quite self-contradictory. A functional city should be able to produce food, and it is not going to become greener by itself.” And when ‘organic’ is involved, he looks beyond that label to the whole long-term food production. Is the labour or land exploited? Does it contribute to affecting the whole food system and nature in a negative way?
Into the tomorrows, Tot will keep on learning, asking difficult questions and dedicating himself to researching ways to make the city more edible and greener.