Deepanker “DK” Khosla, the chef of Thailand’s pioneering Haoma restaurant, won me over with breakfast at his regenerative farm in Bangkok. The eggs were still warm when we collected them from his chickens’ nesting places, and even when his colleagues dropped them into the water to soft-boil them. The freshness of the egg, the vibrant orange gooeyness of the yolk and the bucolic countryside setting were divinely unexpected.
“Regenerative farm in Bangkok” is one of those phrases that I never thought I’d write. The sprawling megalopolis is fairly polluted—not to mention loud and chaotic—and yet here’s this chef growing fruit trees and raising happy, healthy animals within the city limits.
Even better, DK is growing herbs and vegetables on the grounds of Haoma itself. The restaurant, which is in Central Bangkok at the intersection of the two main railway lines, occupies some of the city’s most valuable real estate. The common way of thinking would be to maximize that real estate: as many tables as possible, inside and out. DK’s way of thinking was to give up 60 seats in favor of an urban farm with raised garden plots and rain-fed fish ponds outside and an educational center where guests begin their journey inside.
It’s part of DK’s deep commitment to sustainability. Haoma, whose name refers to a divine plant in Zoroastrianism, is Thailand’s first urban farm and zero-waste restaurant. DK is convinced that it’s not too late to restore our ecosystem, food and community. He’s as concerned about the quality of life for his workers—all immigrants to Thailand, like him—as he is about soil health and composition.
Then again, this way is all he’s ever known. He was born and raised in the northeast Indian city of Allahabad, (now known as Prayagraj). This was the first city in India to go plastic-free, way back in 1995, before the chef was old enough to start school. His parents were committed to repurposing and upcycling, using bags made from old bedsheets to collect the tomatoes, coriander, cucumber and chili they grew themselves. (Now he cooks in an apron made of an old tablecloth.)
He deepened his commitment in 2016, when as a charismatic 25-year-old, he drove an Indo-Mexican food truck all around Thailand. Inevitably, his (sustainably) converted Tata broke down, and he had to wait weeks to get it repaired. While he was cooling his heels in Chiang Rai, he got to know local farmers—including one who imparted his love for farming, and the right way to do it.
He wasn’t working sustainably because it’s trendy, but because he wanted his children to inherit a productive farm. But the outcome is the same. DK told an interviewer from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, “The people at that farm understood perfectly the principles I wanted to work with.”
Even now, he says, “I don’t really care about saving the planet. I only care about saving my child and my wife and the 40 or 50 people who work for me. Plus, my food is better” this way.
Of course, his decisions have an impact on the planet as well, and they’re serving as an inspiration for other chefs and restaurateurs—he’s very generous about sharing his knowledge. And so It’s little wonder Haoma holds a Michelin green star along with the regular one that it earned in 2022. In 2021 DK received a Champions of Change award from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, which cited his commitment to sustainability and his work to help “desperately hungry homeless communities” and out-of-work migrants during pandemic closures.
It’s laudable and inspiring, but the fact is that people aren’t dining on sustainability. The triple bottom line is not an amuse-bouche. Environmental stewardship has no flavor. I’m a big cheerleader for sustainability, but the fact is, people don’t come to Haoma for its philosophy. They come because the food is creative, complex and delicious, and because the garden-dining experience is nothing short of delightful.
That’s because DK’s other commitment is to memorable, inventive fine dining—something he didn’t see much of a market for in India, where, he says, quantity largely holds sway. He wanted to do more. “I would like to be a chef in all of my seven lives,’ he says, “so I can express myself and see people’s reactions. My menu has 22 expressions. They aren’t called courses.”
And they’re delightful expressions at that. Kholhsa calls his cuisine neo-Indian—“Indian food cooked by an Indian who was born there and went out into the world.” He continues, “Our culture is very rich. Our heritage is very rich. I don’t want to shave a truffle on it.”
Instead, he leads guests on a gastronomic journey across India, from east to west, from the land to the sea—or only from the garden, in the case of the vegetarian menu, which is equally fully realized—but all made with Thai products, predominantly those grown or raised in view of the dining room or at the larger farm.
Each dish is complex without being overly complicated, though the menu should perhaps come with a glossary. The current menu kicks off with pani puri (ethereal little puffs of dough filled with vegetables), vada pav (potato dumplings in bread buns), dahi kebab (shallow kebabs with Indian curd and gram flour) and raw mango panna (a refreshing beverage). This is just one dish. The next one includes squid xacuti (a Goan curry), local sea urchin and molly curry (Kerala-style fish stew).
Later on, there’s a dish called Go Madras! with crab (or sunchoke for the vegetarians), madras curry (from the south of India) and ponni rice (fluffy white rice). The menu lists more than 100 ingredients, all rigorously sourced and meticulously prepared. Curries simmer for hours, ending up balanced rather than overpowering.
DK is rightly proud of the menu he’s created. But he’s even more proud of the way he’s created it. And of the fact that at the same time he’s doing all of this, he’s preparing healthful meals that are sold for cheap in Bangkok’s ubiquitous 7-Elevens and creating a permanent kitchen to serve those in need. Dining at Haoma is certainly a privilege, but DK is out to show that good food needn’t be only for the privileged.