(Part 2) Co-owner and Head Chef Napol “Joe” Jantraget of 80/20 BKK on how he build his team and advice to younger chefs

The kitchen crew of 80/20 BKK
“I consider this team an A team. Everyone here works hard and give their 110%. It is never about who is better (myself included). We are one great team.” – Head Chef Napol “Joe” Jantraget

“I am one of those guys who evaluates themselves a lot. I used to be very fit. After opening the first 80/20 BKK, I was working 16 hours a day. I just continued working, not knowing when to stop. I was deteriorating day by day. I am not going to do the same thing again with the new 80/20 BKK. With this new team, I need to be a mentor. I want to take care of myself from the inside out. If I can manage myself well, I can then manage my team and food. It starts with me first.”

Key Learnings 

  1. For any chefs leading a team, your job is to identify what your chefs’ unique traits are, and train each one differently depending on their abilities. The old school French kitchen system does not work anymore. 
  2. For those starting up, try not to rush and walk at a good pace:

In your 20s: Learn about techniques for five years and learn about ingredients with the techniques you developed for the next five years. Work in a kitchen for at least two years and know the kitchen inside out before progressing. 

In your 30s: At this stage, it would help if you had experience working in a variety of kitchens, from fine dining to casual. 

In your mid-30s to 40s: you will be ready to create your concepts successfully. 

  1. Do not pursue money. Once you start, you will do that for the rest of your life. Pursue knowledge first, find yourself, and then the money will come.

Since the relaunch, you’ve hired an entirely new team. How do you manage them? 

I love Muay Thai. In the kitchen, I see myself as the coach. Everyone here is a boxer. Everyone has their own space, style, and individual practice. My job is to identify what their unique traits are and train everyone differently in accordance with their personal abilities 

 I want to be able to talk to them about everything. I consider my chefs as my kids or brothers. If one person is not up to par, everyone will feel the same. Whatever happens here affects everyone.

I worked in an old school French kitchen before and became what I was being trained. It took me some time to realize that it does not work anymore. For me, it is now a matter of how can I get my team to think the same way as I do. Not necessarily in detail, but to be able to get them to care about the little things that we should be caring about.

Most of the young chefs who graduate from culinary schools expect to start plating immediately. When I come across chefs like these, I will tell them to go to the back and peel some onions. 

Chef Joe Jantraget, 80/20 BKK

How did you find your A team? 

We had walk-in interviews. I was amazed that over 45 people came for the interview session. I ask everything; their work, their life, do their mothers cook? Things like that, and I observe. Is he making eye contact? Is he listening to me? Is he taking notes? 

So you look for personality instead of experience? 

It is more whether you can fit into the team. I think I did a pretty good job because all of them became friends. 

What is this common thing that connects everyone? 

They are all crazy in their own ways. The other day, after service around 11.30pm, they came to me and said, “Chef, do you want to see a movie?” I was like, “now!?”, and they went to see a movie till 4 am. I wished them good luck with their preparation for the next day. I am glad that all of them get along. I  always remind them that they can do whatever they like, but they must be responsible for their stations. I do not tell them to come early or do this and that. When you clock in, know your place, put aside your friendship, and perform.

My expectations of my chefs is: If you gave me a full glass of water before, I do not expect half a glass the next time – I know everyone’s potential and capabilities. 

Chef Joe Jantraget, 80/20 BKK

Open kitchen of 80/20 BKK
“I like to see ourselves as an institution one day for the younger generations of chefs. To provide a platform for younger Thai chefs to promote themselves.” – Head Chef Napol “Joe” Jantraget

What is your advice to young chefs? 

Do not rush. For the first five years, learn about techniques. After five years of techniques, move on to ingredients for the next five years. Learn them with the techniques you developed. Work in a kitchen for at least 2 years and know the kitchen well before progressing. Do not change your job too often. Work in a variety of kitchens, it does not always have to be fine dining. In your early 30s, you will have more confidence in creating your concepts. 

I often feel that the younger generation are too hasty. Everyone wants to make it. Everyone tries to rush. When you work at such a speed, you will get burnt out quickly. When you stop running, you might not want to continue on this journey anymore. My advice is to walk instead of run. Keep walking and keep learning. Take a nice pace. Take a good walk.

Every chef wants to be on top of the list. However, I do not want my team to think that we are cooking just for awards. We are cooking for our guests first and foremost and hopefully, that will get us somewhere.

Chef Joe Jantraget, 80/20 BKK

Husband and wife duo Chef Joe and Chef Saki of 80/20 BKK
Husband and wife duo Chef Joe and Chef Saki decided to continue building 80/20 BKK after their partenrs left. “The transition was a difficult time for us. We even consider closing the restaurant and move to Japan. However, it felt like we are not done yet. We have created a space, We were building up our reputation. So we decided that we have to keep going.”

What is next for yourself and 80/20 BKK team? 

At the end of my career, I want to see Thai cuisine to be regarded as a cuisine on par with French, Italian, and the likes. I think we have what it takes. I hope that the next generation will continue to keep pushing the boundaries of what Thai cuisine can offer.

-This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Words by Theresa Burhan. Edited by Fatima Al Rayes. Photography by Foodie Collection. 

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