Q & A with Bangkok Food Maker Joe Sloane
Meet the chef-turned-butcher who has become a household name in Bangkok in a few short years. Joe Sloane spent over 15 years honing his craft in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and worked at top hotels in Thailand before creating a leading local artisanal food brand. He is equally passionate about food and animal welfare and sources quality meats that are raised free of hormones and antibiotics and avoids chemical additives in his products.
Q: WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO TAKE THE LEAP INTO SMALL BUSINESS AND CREATE YOUR OWN PRODUCTS?
A: While working as a chef in Bangkok I noticed that no one was doing items like sausages and bacons at a higher level. When I was a chef in London we had some amazing suppliers selling great meat products and I wanted replicate the things I missed. I was also used to working with great ethical farms and could order different breeds of pig for different dishes, so I wanted to be able to offer something more than just the standard pork and cheap processed sausages here.
Q: YOU LITERALLY GO TO THE SOURCE FOR YOUR MEAT AND KNOW THE CONDITIONS THE ANIMALS WERE RAISED IN. FARM-TO-TABLE IN ACTION. IS IT DIFFICULT FINDING PRIMARY PRODUCERS TO WORK WITH AND HOW DO YOU ENSURE QUALITY STANDARDS ARE MAINTAINED?
A: Yes, it’s not easy. But I now work with a few great farms which I’m very happy about. Visiting the farms is one of the fun parts of the job and it’s great to meet farmers with a passion and love for what they do. I generally find the farms that produce ethical meats are very open and proud of what they do. When someone approaches me about buying pork from them but won’t let me see the farm I presume they’re hiding something. As well as visiting the farm I also visit the abattoirs to ensure that the pigs have been slaughtered humanely and professionally. Sadly I have had to say no to some good farms in the past as the slaughtering wasn’t done properly. This is partly down to the ethics of making sure the pig had a humane death but also down to pork quality and hygiene. It’s always a shame to say no to good pigs when it’s something that’s out of the farmer’s hands.
Q: MANY READERS KNOW YOU FROM YOUR MARKET APPEARANCES AND FROM YOUR PRODUCTS IN SUPERMARKET FREEZERS. IS YOUR BUSINESS MAINLY RETAIL AND JUST IN BANGKOK?
A: I started at the original farmer’s markets set up by Bo.lan. That as well as the K Village and Spring Epicurean Markets is what got my name out there and allowed me to turn my business into something more substantial. But most of my business is wholesale and we sell to a range of top hotels, restaurants and cafe’s nationwide. We don’t do so many of the markets anymore, but we have our small shop and home delivery service so the public can still get our full range directly from us.
Q: IT USED TO BE THAT THERE WAS A PREFERENCE FOR IMPORTED FOOD PRODUCTS IN THAILAND. THAT IS DEFINITELY CHANGING AS PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SOURCE MORE LOCALLY AND CAN. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE INCREASE IN SUPPLY OF HIGH QUALITY, LOCAL ARTISANAL PRODUCTS TO?
A: There’s been a great change in the past 5 or 6 years and chefs are now buying a lot more local produce and are proud to show they source from small local suppliers which was never the case when I was in the hotels here. The markets meant that small artisan businesses had a place where they could sell to like-minded people, so producers like myself were able to slowly build our businesses and get noticed. This also gave encouragement to other skilled producers to make and sell their products.
Q: ARTISAN IS A POPULAR TERM AT THE MOMENT. WITH THE GROWTH OF YOUR BUSINESS ARE YOU STILL ACTUALLY HANDS ON IN THE KITCHEN?
A: Obviously a lot less than I was. I have a great team behind me now and they do a really good job. Most of my time in the kitchen now is more for development of new products. But I’m a chef and always want to be hands on as much as I can. I get bored if I’m in the office too long and often turn off the computer and go and grab a pig to cut up and get stuck in.
Q: HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE ON YOUR TEAM? HOW DO YOU ENSURE THEY ALL SHARE YOUR VISION FOR ETHICAL FOOD?
A: I have a team of 15 in total now and I’m very happy with them. When a new member joins a big part of their training is making them understand the difference between what I do compared to other places. I also only employ chefs for the kitchen, not butchers. I’d rather have a clean slate that I can train rather than someone who is used to doing things other ways. The one butcher I employed, although very talented, could never understand why I don’t add all the chemicals into my sausages. It is harder to retrain someone than start fresh.
Q: WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WORK DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
A: I’m always the first one in and start about an hour before my staff arrive. Mornings are busy trying to get the orders together and out in the vans as quickly as possible and making sure everything is correct. By about 10am when things calm down and the vans have gone, my day is split between the kitchen, the office, the shop and meetings. I often like to come in early or stay late and it’s when the place is empty that I can play around with new ideas and recipes with some music on and no one to interrupt.
Q: YOU HAVE BEEN AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE BANGKOK MARKET SCENE FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS. WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN MARKET VISITORS AND THEIR PURCHASES IN THAT TIME?
A: The market scene has changed so much over the years. Originally it was a very expat scene but this soon changed and it turned into a great mix of people sharing a love of food. It then moved on to be much more mainstream and it was great to see so many people coming along and trying new foods and learning about more ethical meat. Then markets like the Spring Epicurean Market brought it back to the original idea of being about food and the producers that make it but at the same time it was a fun morning for all the family. People have definitely become more open to trying new things too and come to try and learn more about food.
Q: ARE YOU LIVING THE DREAM? IS YOUR BUSINESS WHERE YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE WHEN YOU BEGAN AND WHAT GOALS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
A: Haha, not sure about living the dream, it’s been a lot of hard work but I’m happy with the way the business has grown. So many people thought I was crazy trying to make what they saw as a cheap product at a higher level, so I’m pleased to have proved them wrong. The business is very different to how I first envisioned it and we’ve had to adjust and grow substantially more than I originally wanted to but I’m very happy with how we have grown and never felt pressured into using lower quality meats or imported frozen meats to make a better profit.
We have a few big plans coming up and we’ll soon have an area in Gourmet Market selling a range of fresh sausages and bacons over the counter. We have also just started exporting to neighboring countries, so hopefully you’ll be seeing Sloane’s on the menus across SE Asia very soon.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SLOANE’S PRODUCT?
A: It probably has to be my Cumberland. It was the first sausage I started making when setting up Sloane’s and it’s still our biggest seller to this day. I regularly try all my sausages as part of our QC procedure, but occasionally I take a pack home and eat it properly as part of a meal and still thoroughly enjoy it.
(Image credits: Sloane’s, Hans Werner-Mueller)
160 Soi Lasalle 34-36, Sukhumvit 105
Ph: 02 398 2294
About Seed & Tell
We want to understand who makes where, how and why. Because food matters!