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People 3 minutes 24 November 2018

Power Couples: Bo and Dylan James of Bo.Lan in Bangkok

The love story behind one of Bangkok's most highly-rated restaurants.

Thailand Michelin star power couples

The selection for the MICHELIN Guide Bangkok 2019 has just been announced, and contemporary Thai restaurant Bo.Lan has made the list once again, retaining its Michelin star.

The best Thai food is found in Thailand—Duangporn Songvisava and Dylan James, the dynamic couple behind Bo.Lan, believe this with a deep passion.

Bo.Lan is the wordplay of the married couple’s names. It combines “Bo,” Songvisava's Thai nickname, with the second syllable of her Australian husband Dylan's name. In Thai, it sounds like the word for "classic," something not many people would identify with the restaurant at first glance. Not only does it operate under modern principles, but Dylan’s ethnicity also leaves potential patrons questioning the authenticity of the food. Regarding such a question, the couple offer complete assurance: “We only present the most traditional Thai flavors.”

Expect to find Thai food in its purest form at Bo.Lan.
Expect to find Thai food in its purest form at Bo.Lan.
When Paths Converge

The story of Bo.Lan begins with a heartwarming love story.
A Thai native, Bo pursued her Master’s in Gastronomy degree in Adelaide, Australia. After returning home and working at the five-starred hotel restaurant Cy’an at Metropolitan Hotel Bangkok, she made her next big move to London. There, she spent time learning from David Thompson, one of the most high-profile chefs in Thai cooking, at his Michelin-starred restaurant Nahm.

That was where she met Dylan and fell in love. The Canberra, Australia-native started his career at a Melbourne eatery where he was so fascinated by the vibrancy of Asian cuisine that he set out to Nahm to explore the essence of Thai food.
As their relationship progressed, marriage was a natural option. But they decided to take a step further, moving back to Thailand and opening a restaurant that serves only the most local fare one can find.

It’s a love for Thai cuisine that brought Bo and Dylan together. To Dylan, the heat of the food made a lasting impression.

“We were newly married at that time," he says. "As I just landed in Thailand, Bo and I went on a trip to the south of the country. We had a dish called sour orange curry chicken. It’s probably the most spicy dish I’ve had in my life.”
From Australia to London to Bangkok, the two people who lived in very different circles of life found common ground and subsequently romance. Bo.Lan opened based on their mutual dedication, and the cuisine served there is the expression of their love.

Working as a Team

“At the kitchen, whatever she says goes,” chuckles Dylan. Laughter and a sense of relaxation permeated their interaction. Bo is the more serious between the two, but Dylan always finds a way to put a smile on her face; it’s not hard to see how solid their emotional foundation is.

“We see each other every day, almost 24/7," adds Dylan. "Whether at work or home, we are always together. Certainly, it could feel a bit much at times. But on the other hand, we’ve got someone we can trust implicitly. Let’s say if one of us got sick or couldn’t be in the kitchen for a day, we know that the other would make the most effort to finish the work and cook the best food. Such rapport is the biggest advantage of a husband-and-wife team in my opinion."

“We understand each other, not only in terms of personality, but also work situation and potential challenges," Bo adds. "For those, we’d try to figure out a solution together. We are great partners both in the context of work and personal life.”
Bo and Dylan have an enviable partnership at work and in life.
Bo and Dylan have an enviable partnership at work and in life.
Breaking the Stereotype

Although trained overseas, the couple believes in traditional preparation methods to create the best Thai meal. As Bo says, “The most significant lesson we took away from abroad wasn’t how to cook, but the essentials in running a restaurant—for example, a modern operation system, logistics and a high hygiene standard. We mostly stick to old school utensils in cooking, but the washing equipment comes from the West.”

The streets in Thailand are dotted with food stalls, but their less than ideal hygiene conditions make a lot of epicures hesitate. Bo and Dylan took on the mission to redefine Thai food, changing the diners’ perception that it’s not only delicious, but refined.

“When we’re talking about fine dining, the most crucial aspect is to use ingredients of quality," Dylan explains. "We work with many different food suppliers in Thailand. Whether we decide to work with a certain supplier or not depends on visits to their production bases. We need to understand how their ingredients are produced, and the philosophy behind them."
“With the right ingredients, everything that follows, like cooking and seasoning, would come naturally," he continues. "That’s why I believe the produce is the most important [aspect of] preparing a good meal. One of people’s biggest misunderstandings about Thai food is that it’s cheap. It’s actually not the case, especially for the food made with top-notch ingredients.” Currently, Bo.Lan sources the raw materials from across the country, including fish from Krabi and vegetables from Northern Thailand.
A Sustainable Stance

As time went by, Bo and Dylan developed a comprehensive structure in restaurant operation. They became an advocate for zero carbon footprint as they were five years into the business. The restaurant implemented energy-saving lighting and a water filtration system to eliminate purchasing plastic bottled water.

Ardent about promoting social responsibility in the gastronomy circle, the duo even reached out to television shows and universities to discuss the use of organic produce to reduce the burden the modern lifestyle imposes on nature. And they don’t intend to stop there. The next stage in their plan is to introduce solar power to the venture, lowering its reliance on fuel.
This article was written by Tang Jie and translated by Vincent Leung. Click here to read the original version of this story.

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