Daniel Bucher talks to John Krich
A kitchen is a kitchen, and once you feel at home in one, you are at home anywhere in the world. Maybe that is the chef’s main solace and source of satisfaction.
Daniel Bucher seems a contented man inside the small confines of the square cave lined with silvery counters and appliances that’s the back kitchen at the bar/restaurant/café/tapas and snacks centre that is Osito Unique Spanish (née El Osito)—even though, surrounded by four or five Thai staff in dapper uniforms, there’s barely room to turn around. After eight years with Plaza Athénée, spending much of his time with executive decisions, paper work, and hygiene classes, he says he feels liberated to get back to doing what he does best—and he makes sure he does several full shifts per week, even when the boss doesn’t have to.
A German native, his passion for cooking was awakened, and his ability to handle all sorts of challenges was honed, on his grandfather’s farm in the southern Schwarzwald. “When I was just eight years old, I invited the neighbours over for a dinner,” he recounts with pride. While studying art and architecture in Hamburg, he always worked as a cook on the side and later, when studies were interrupted by political protests, switched full-time to culinary school (though in Germany, it’s always combined with hands-on apprenticeship labours).
After work in Berlin and Sydney, he first came to Bangkok on a trial with the Plaza Athénée, and, having met the Thai woman who would become his wife and mother of his two children, returned on a permanent basis. It was a casual conversation with Billy Bautista about what to do with the empty space next to his La Monita Mexican taquería that set Bucher on a more independent, and decidedly more Latin, path.
“I love Spanish cooking,” he explains, “because it’s such a big country, the tastes are bold and the range is wide.” He still tries to explore the place when he can. And, he believes, “Serving tapas is very much in line with Thai eating and the Thai lifestyle, where dishes are shared and come out in no particular order.”
But the challenge for him is how to replicate its tastes with local ingredients as much as possible—and his eclectic menu is matched by an encyclopaedic knowledge of farmers’ markets and local suppliers. He likes to incorporate little-known herbs and berries into his sauces when he can. “It’s still a challenge to come up with a lot of items”—the artichokes, he admits, are from abroad— “but we’ve got to support the efforts here and become sustainable.”
Still, Chef Daniel’s greatest pride seems to be the homemade char-black blood sausages that Spaniards have told him are “as good as anything back home.” An even bigger twinkle comes into his eyes when pointing to the shelf above Osito’s corner bar: holding his personal collection of many of the world’s rarest and most home-crafted gins. No lagers, please, for this German who breaks all stereotypes.
He feels Bangkok is unique in the camaraderie between chefs of all nations. “It’s really rare the way everyone who is forging this new cuisine helps one another,” he adds, saying there’s an “us against them” feeling when confronted with the many thousands of restaurants tied to old and unhealthy ways. He also says that, thanks to his art background, he thinks restaurants can do a lot more to combine food with on-site installations and design, even performance.
And then he shows that me how sometimes the best cooking doesn’t involve any cooking at all. On a colour-coded yellow cutting board, he deftly takes a tender piece of local beef and chops it into small slices more efficiently than any grinder could do. Then he applies personal pinches from a variety of plastic containers of touches only he may notice, but must take care to add: chopped capers, pepper, and some yuzu foam. It’s the addition of a layer of mashed avocado to top a round mould that he’s most proud of, plus a garnish of radish slice and a scattering of roasted potato wedges.
This isn’t just a beef tartare. It’s a statement of a man who feels in tune with any ingredient, any kitchen, any city, everywhere.
888/23-24 Mahatun Plaza, Ploenchit Rd | 0 2651 4399 | facebook.com/ositobkk | Mon-Fri 10.30am-12am, Sat-Sun 10am-12am
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