After our visit to the White Temple, we headed on to Locus Native Food Lab for dinner. Locus is a private restaurant and food laboratory owned by Chef Kongwuth Chaiwongkachon or Chef Kong for short.
That dinner was, hands down, one of my favorite experiences on this trip. Chef Kong and I connected on so many different levels. His mission of feeding souls is parallel to mine. My heart was so full after the meal that I was literally moved to tears.
Appreciating Lanna cuisine from a different light at Locus Native Food Lab
One of the many things I have to say about that dinner at Locus Native Food Lab is this: Chef Kong set the expectations, but he definitely over-delivered. The food, the experience, the atmosphere—they’re all just perfect. Chef Kong paid so much attention to all the little details to make sure that we truly experienced Chiang Rai like no other time than you could ever.
What did we eat at Locus Native Food Lab? The dinner actually has two parts. For the first part, Chef Kong served us a multi-course meal. Among the dishes we had were kaeng kradang or solidified curry, nham prik ong, jor pakkad or radish leaves soup with tamarind, nham prik nham or fermented radish leaves relish, and cashew nuts with chili paste.
Chef Kong presented these dishes as if they’re French Michelin-starred plates. They’re so fine and so elegant. But with each bite, you can taste all their traditional flavors. For me, they taste like home. They taste like something my grandma would make, only that they looked nothing like the food I grew up with.
For the second part, Chef Kong served the same dishes. What makes this different from the first part of the dinner is that this time, all the dishes are presented in the traditional Lanna way. They’re placed in a khan tok, which is a pedestal tray used as a dining table in Lanna homes. The contrast is amazing and made the dinner a true learning experience. Chef Kong’s genius lies in the fact that he made previously inaccessible Thai food more approachable for non-Thais.
Another thing I appreciated with Chef Kong is his obvious practicality. He doesn’t make his staff change silverware with every course served. For me, as a restaurateur, this makes a lot of sense because you don’t have to stock up on silverware and have your staff wash so many of them all the time.
Chef Kong embodies the true meaning of “feeding souls”
As I have mentioned earlier, Chef Kong’s mission of feeding souls is parallel to mine. I believe that he embodies the true meaning of the term “feeding souls.” That’s because he’s dedicated to sharing his passion and creativity in educating people about Lanna food. As he told my Soul Foodies, “If we won’t do it, who will? Who will preserve the heritage of our cuisine?”
In his own words: “I just feel like I need to do something that is meaningful and patriotic. Giving love to the history of my country, that’s what I can do. So, I have devoted myself. And my team also—everyone who comes to work in this restaurant knows what they’re signing up for. It’s not about earning the most out of the restaurant. It’s about communicating, talking like this.”
I can say for sure that the stories Chef Kong had to share truly impressed and moved us.
Speaking of his team, the respect Chef Kong has for his staff is visible. In my experience, when you respect your staff, they respect you. They respect your food, what you’re doing, and what your mission is. And that level of respect truly came out in every level of the service at Locus Native Food Lab.
It’s also easy to tell how much respect Chef Kong has for every aspect of his work—for the ancestry and the land, for the food and the people who made it, for his peers. Most of all, he has a deep reverence for the community and how we are all connected.
During the meal, I told my Soul Foodies that I consider it an honor to bring them to Locus Native Food Lab. In turn, I encouraged them to educate everyone else they meet about their trip, about Thai food, and all the experiences they had in Thailand.
Watch the episode here: https://bit.ly/NFSSeason2Ep17