Updated: Jan 13
The World's 50 Next spotlights a list of people shaping the future of gastronomy worldwide. The class of 2022 featured Dharath “Tot” Hoonchamlong, the first Thai who was featured in the Gamechanging Producer category.
Chomp Magazine chatted with him at one of his favourite restaurants on Sukhumvit Road. We greeted each other and made some jokes a bit before starting the interview.
We kicked off with his feeling about being on the list. He simply replied, “It was an honour to be featured in this list." He humbly continued, "It was unexpected."
Tot graduated with a Master's Degree in Food Studies from New York University. He worked for a renowned sustainable restaurant and hotel as Environmental Manager and Sustainable Director while building his then-sustainable cocktail bar, which recently shifted to a sustainable network called wasteland.
At first, wasteland was a sustainable bar. It was located inside a sustainable Thai fine dining restaurant where he used to work. Tot told us, "Things with wasteland started well until the complications and collateral effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Long story short, we struggled a lot because of the uncertainty of the situation. We had to shift from being a bar to selling sustainable non-alcoholic drinks made of surpluses and local ingredients. We had to move out of the premises when the restaurant announced its closure. We had to find a place for our operation and figure out what we could do to go forward.
"At that time, while I was managing wasteland. I also still wanted to work and explore to know what was missing and which direction I wanted to embark on.” I was away from Bangkok to work in a hotel whilst studying for my other degree and working on multiple projects remotely. With all hopes and dreams that I wanted to pursue, I had to figure out a plan to manage everything. When I got the Sustainable Director position in this hotel, I did the best I could to focus on my jobs and education. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned.
"After working with different people and organisations, I encountered many things, such as greenwashing and difficulties, that made me realise that working as a full-time employee with other projects on the side wasn’t the right path for me at the moment. There are so many things other than running wasteland that could help improve the environmental problem and pass on knowledge to others, so I decided to return home and plan my next move."
Chomp Magazine asked that reopening wasteland cocktail bar again was one of the plans. Tot simply replied, "Sure, but not anytime soon. Right now, we stick to the core of sharing and learning as a community. Recently, we entered another stage. wasteland is now a network/community that continues to work, r&d and collaborate on food, beverages and environment with people and experts from various fields."
wasteland is well-connected with people, communities and organisations in Chiang Mai, for instance, Maadae Slow Fish Kitchen. We asked Tot what was special about Chiang Mai, and he told us. "Well, some of our ingredients are from Chiang Mai, and one of our co-founders lives there." Tot continued, "Also, the communities and organisations in Chiang Mai are known to be engaged in sustainability long before Bangkok does. Chiang Mai has good resources to use, learn and study from."
Chomp Magazine wondered how the growth of organisations and individuals that practise sustainability in Thailand remained relatively small when Thailand had so many influencers who posted content about global warming and other environmental issues with many followers.
"It's probably because the reasons why those followers and viewers subscribe to those influencers are not related to solving environmental issues." Tot replied, "There's nothing wrong with that. People are free to subscribe to anyone for any kind of reason. We cannot force them to believe the cause if they don't want to. We have seen many people who try to force, guilt trip and shame other people, and how these actions cause backlashes or other consequences.
"In my opinion, influencers are important. It's good to have someone to spread the word to the public because those who work in sustainability, culture and equivalent fields regularly are often occupied with their projects. They are unable to frequently meet the press or make alluring content daily. The world needs both kinds of people to improve the issues. However, the influencers need to be aware to produce content with consciousness, ethics and responsibility. Misinformation and unclear messages could lead to more problems and unthinkable damages."
Before we bade each other goodbye, Tot told us that if wasteland opened its sustainable cocktail bar again, he would invite us.