Features 2 minutes 19 January 2019

Video: A Symphony Of Flavours Upstairs

At Bangkok’s one-Michelin-starred Upstairs at Mikkeller, Dan Bark orchestrates a symphony of flavours with food, craft beer and coffee.

Thailand coffee Michelin star

Walk down this quiet residential street in Bangkok’s hipster Ekkamai neighbourhood in the evening and you’ll come upon a white two-storey bungalow, its front yard bathed in the cheery glow of fairy lights. A long wall of 30 craft beers on tap greets you as you step into the Mikkeller Bangkok bar.

“It’s fun, upbeat surroundings, and you come up the stairs and you’ll walk into our home,” says Dan Bark, chef-owner of fine-dining restaurant Upstairs at Mikkeller. “And I’ll be at the corner cooking for you.”
Bark, who was born in South Korea, cut his teeth as the sous chef of three-Michelin-starred Grace in Chicago under renowned American chef Curtis Duffy before arriving in Bangkok with his Thai wife in 2014 with dreams of opening his own restaurant. The cosy dining room on the second floor features the chef’s Progressive American 10-course tasting menu created to complement the Mikkeller bar’s range of craft beer, cider and mead. For Bark, it is a very personal cuisine. “I say ‘American’ not in the way of steak and potatoes, but a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines.”

“I’ve always ever drunk IPAs, pale ales and lagers, but once I started to drink different styles of beer like lambics and really fresh saisons, I realised that I could create dishes around beer because the spectrum of flavours is just so wide that you could play around with it even more than you could with wine,” he says.
The tasting menu is designed to tell a story and take the guest on a journey through a whole spectrum of flavours, starting on a high, bright note with the amuse bouche to a deep and rich main course of pork mole and picking up again at dessert to end the meal on a high. “We’ll usually ask guests if they want coffee before dessert and that’s my favourite time because I love smelling the coffee,” the chef says, laughing. “It’s actually a very tempting time.”

The Chef’s Coffee Connection

“I’m a huge coffee person. I start every morning with coffee. Prep is like rush hour and before service, I have to calm down and relax, and I do that with another coffee,” says Bark. “It’s not the caffeine jolt I need; it’s that emotional calming moment.”

He attributes that association with his childhood days when he had to wake up at the crack of dawn to help out at his parents’ dry-cleaning business. “It was long hours and I hated doing it, but my mum would always brew coffee for us to drink on the way to work and that was the only good part about the early mornings,” he says. “Being a chef is physically and mentally tough but I think just drinking coffee reminds me of those times and lets me know that I’ll be okay.”
For Bark, using coffee as an ingredient in his cooking adds a different dimension to his dishes. While creating his dish of pork with mole sauce, the chef played on the dark, savoury flavours of the traditional Mexican curry with chocolate, dried chilli, raisins, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, black garlic and tomato. “I found that it wasn’t as earthy as I wanted, I wanted the sauce to hit you in the back of the throat a bit more and so I decided to add coffee into it.”

Bark chose to use the full-bodied and dense Ristretto coffee from the range of Nespresso coffee that he serves to guests at dessert. Pure and dark-roasted South and Central American Arabica beans give the Ristretto the dense body and distinct cocoa notes that he sought for the pork mole.
“Instead of having to grind and brew the coffee, now I just pop in the capsule and a perfect, consistent cup of espresso comes out every time. It’s a 30-second action and makes my prep a lot easier,” he says.

Nespresso’s passion for perfection resonates with him because as a chef running a Michelin-starred restaurant, paying attention to quality and consistency keeps him at the top of his game. “Consistency is so important, you’re only as good as the last meal you put out. We source out the best ingredients and show the farmer respect by treating it the best way possible and getting that to the diner’s table,” he says. “Nespresso does the same with their coffee, from bean to cup. They have to really care about their beverage for us to pour it up here.”

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