“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.”
In 2014, with dreams of opening his own restaurant, Bark moved to Bangkok with his then-girlfriend, now wife Fay Tragoolvongse, whom he had met while they were both working at Avenues. “Since I was a child, I always wanted to have a restaurant. I came from a really poor family and one time, we went out to a fried chicken place. We were getting served, they cleared our dishes away. And coming from a poor family, that was a mind-blowing experience and I just thought: ‘I want everyone to feel this’,” he says.
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.”
We find out what it was like for him when his restaurant received a Michelin star in the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Bangkok 2018.
The MICHELIN Guide wasn’t in Chicago yet when I was there working at Avenues — that was when I first met Curtis Duffy. After a few years of working there, the guide was launched in 2010 and Avenues got two Michelin stars. As a chef, you always know about the guide but you don’t realise how big an impact it has on a city. That was my first experience with the guide and it was eye-opening.
I still can’t believe it. I bawled actually. After the Michelin gala, the next morning I was in the kitchen working by myself and then it finally hit me that we won a star and I bawled. I think there were so many things going on the night before that I couldn’t really process it, but when you’re alone in the kitchen and you can see what you’ve built, you can’t help but feel emotional.
How did you celebrate?
After the gala, we came back to the restaurant and we drank a little bit, hugging everyone and celebrating with the staff. But we had service the next day so we couldn’t go too crazy. Not partying hard on a school night is an important rule in our kitchen. A lot of our staff, they come from humble backgrounds like me and they always put the restaurant and guests as priority. It’s a selfless job that doesn’t usually reward you, so when you have moments like that that reward you, it makes the tough times easier to handle.
No matter how many times you’re on the team that’s helped to win a Michelin star, it’s always an honour. You try not to show that you’re stressed about it, but it’s the ultimate reward, the ultimate goal.
What advice do you have for young chefs that aspire to receive Michelin stars?
Take it slow and focus on your cutting board for now. I think if you’re too busy looking at the stars, you forget what’s right in front of you. I’d say slow down, make sure your knife is sharp, make sure you know how to slice an onion, season food, control the temperature. And once you’ve done these steps, one day, you look up and the star will be there in front of you.