Chef Kongwut (Locus) Brings Wild Delicacies to Chef’s Table
Part of Wild Honey Project 2020, which aims to preserve the bees’ habitat and promote the livelihood of the Pakakeryor.
“If I told you that I used honey to put out wildfires, make families proud of their culture and heritage, as well as improve their lives, would you believe me?”,
said Kongwut “Chef Kong” Chaiwongkhajon, the man behind one of Chiang Rai’s most famous chef’s table restaurants, Locus Native Food Lab.
The waiting list requires you to book months in advance, but you’ll get to taste authentic Northern Thai dishes elevated to fine dining. The highly localized recipes and ingredients ensure that these menus aren’t something you can find in Bangkok.
Chef Kong tells us about his work on preserving natural bee habitats in the wilds as well as creating jobs for the local Pakakeryor community in Huay Hinlard, Chiang Rai. To achieve his goals, he works with Food Factors, a subsidiary of Singha Corporation, in the brand-new Wild Honey Project 2020.
“Bees and honey are our natural resources; they’re incredibly precious and exhaustible. I think we’re lucky to have all these species of honey bees. If we don’t try to preserve them and they end up disappearing, that would be a real shame.”
Chef Kong shared this sentiment after explaining the importance of bees.
As they pollinate most plants and trees that bear fruits, these little bugs are responsible for producing over 80% of our food. They’re also the fastest way to expand forest areas. Without bees, our agricultural industry might collapse altogether.
These backstories are showcased in the exclusive tasting menu – Chef’s Table By Chef Kong (Locus). The event took place on January 24 at Made By TODD Pop Up Restaurant, EST. 33 Crystal Design Center (CDC).
Chef Kong served five original items plus one dessert. Each one uses a different kind of honey from a different type of bees such as giant honey bees, Asiatic honey bees, and stingless bees.
“I want people to realize that not all honey is sweet; some are bitter, some are sour. So I try to showcase that in the course menu.
The course is eater-oriented, so to speak. I think about what most people are familiar with, as I usually prepare more unusual dishes like rare, local Northern Thai dishes.
This time, I try to pull away from all that and choose something that most people will find palatable. If the food isn’t delicious, it would be impossible to convince people how good honey can be. If people enjoy the food, however, then it’ll be easier to talk about honey.”
To create this chef’s table course, Chef Kong incorporates various techniques from international cuisines like Japanese and American into the preparation.
Tiger Prawn Salad & Acidic Honey Sesame Dressing – a Japanese style salad with tangy stingless bee honey & sesame dressing.
To enjoy it, you must poke the dressing from its pocket, then toss it with the greens, peas, tofu, cape gooseberries, and the prawn butter chip. It’s served with a large grilled tiger prawn, which goes beautifully together.
Lollipop Wings with TODD Sauce, Jujube Chutney & Mint Cream. The American-style chicken wings are covered in TODD hot sauce and giant honey bee honey. The chicken is steamed, taken off the bone, and shaped into a ball.
The chicken is then deep-fried like you would BBQ wings. It’s served on Indian-style chutney made from Boon Rawd Farm jujubes and giant honey bee honey, topped with minty sour cream and garlic chips.
Pork Tenderloin, Toasted Pumpkin & Honey Mustard Jus Reduction. – an entreé prepared in a French style. The poached pork tenderloin is served with grilled pumpkin, Asiatic honey bees sauce, and basil crisp. The ingredients make this dish naturally sweet.
Chimichanga of “Honey Lhon” is a fusion of Mexican & Thai cuisine. ‘Lhon’ is usually made by stewing pickled or fermented items, such as soybeans, fish, or salted fish, in coconut cream.
However, Chef Kong opts for the sweet giant honey bee honey, as well as chilies pickled in vinegar and honey. It’s wrapped up then deep-fried chimichanga-style and served with blanched white turmeric, winged beans, and cucumber.
Honey Glazed Duck Fillet, Hung Lay Croquette, Nut Foam & Candied Ginger. With this, Chef Kong wishes to showcase his expertise in Northern Thai cuisine. The duck is smoked in cold vapor then glazed in giant honey bee honey. It’s served with hot ‘Hung Lay Curry’ croquettes, peanut foam, and mellowed with candied ginger sauce.
Last but least is Castella and Frozen Honey Yogurt. The Japanese-style sponge uses all three types of honey: giant honey bee honey for the cake, stingless bee honey for the sauce, and Asiatic bee honey for the frozen yogurt. It’s served with salted crumbles for contrast in tastes and textures – a truly delightful dish.
As everyone enjoyed their meal, Chef Kong explained his main goal in working with Food Factors: to build ‘bee nurseries’.
“I have about 2,000 rais of densely wooded areas, and I want to develop it into something that’ll help grow the local bee population. We’ll turn it into a bee nursery.
No need to build structures or fence the area; just keep planting as many flowers and trees as we can. When the bees know that the forest here is fertile, they’ll come back.
But it isn’t enough for bees to just grow and thrive. They must do so sustainably. To make that possible, the locals must be able to profit from this project. If they take care of the bees according to our standards, I offer to buy the honey at twice the market price. However, they would also have to follow the criteria and collect research data for us.
Then, I sell the honey and give the profits to the community so they can take care of the woods, prevent wildfires, and become a model for others.
I want the locals to protect and care about the woods in their area. I’m trying to show that helping the forests flourish is better than cutting them down.”
Wild Honey Project 2020 details the fruits of its labor in the book Royal Honey Bee ‘Mathukorn’ 2020. The blue book contains a bottle of 100% wild honey collected from wild Butea Superba flowers, and the engaging story of forests, bees, and beekeepers.
Before the meal was wrapped up, Chef Kong shared a few words for the public. According to him, people should realize the importance of bees in their lives, regardless of their everyday jobs.
“I’ve always said that bees and honey are exhaustible resources if we don’t take care of them. It’s not like everyone will have to pack up and start growing trees in the forests right now, but we should learn about the bees’ role in all this.
There are many ways to help; promoting wildfire prevention or spreading info about the effects of monoculture is just as important.
No matter what sectors or industries you’re in, you can do this. Do as much as you can without worrying whether that’ll be enough; just starting is enough.”