The Fine Art of Failure
Kris Yenbamroong is creator and chef of Night + Market, an archipelago of eateries in Thailand’s westernmost province of Los Angeles. His restaurants—the first in WeHo, then Silver Lake, next not-soon-enough Venice—serve up Thai street food, sauces and spices and smoke, Singhas and surfaces that can be easily cleaned, dayglo colors and the soundtrack to your nights. You go there for the best Thai street food in town, and if you don’t know, now you know.
The glow of success can be blinding, a light that obscures more than it illuminates. Nothing came overnight for Kris. Before the Larb King he was just another NYU film school kid, too cool for school, too poor for therapy, too lazy for a real job. His twenties were tough. He had ideas, but he wasn’t in a position to execute them. He had passions, but not the money to pursue them. He had ideals, but not the conviction to follow them. He even had dreams, but that’s all they were – uncertain, untested, unrealized. Failure is so often tied up with fear, and so nothing really happens.
Yet failure, for lack of a better word, tells you about yourself. What you can do and what you can’t. What you should have done differently and what you need to do next time. Falling flat on your face, you pick yourself up, and go out and do it again, just differently, hopefully. Kris had “one trick up his sleeve," really the only trick up his sleeve: if there was a chance for fun, he went for it. So one night he went to go hear his hero Richard Kern give a talk, afterwards approaching him for a job, any job. Kern asked if he knew Adobe programs so Kris crammed with books for Dummies over the next month editing porn clips for the filmmaker of transgression. He faked his way through the free trial and was hired as Kern’s assistant.
A couple years later Kris walks up to a girl after a night of drinking and asks her out, making sure to get her name—Sarah—before he goes off and gets in a fight with some random person on the street. Kris + Sarah now run the Night + Market empire. But before the wedding bells and happily ever afters Kris was running his family’s Sunset Strip restaurant Talesai into the ground, young and dumb and doing too much too soon. With the help of a father exercising Phil Jacksonlike patience, Kris opened his own spot next door, in the shadow of his big failure. Watching the slow trickle of people come and go and looking for something, anything to get on the radar, he made the pop-up permanent and went to see food critic and kingmaker Jonathan Gold speak on social media. After the talk, Kris walked up to him and asked him to come eat at his restaurant. Gold showed up unannounced a week later, wrote a glowing review and tweet, and began championing Kris, telling him to keep doing what he was doing. The Goldies started showing up in droves.
Everyone’s coming for that aura of authenticity, and almost everyone eating there is not Thai. But you don’t care, just like when you’re 22 in Bangkok, acting the foreigner and not giving a fuck, reaching for the next drink, looking for the next adventure. In Thailand street food is just food; authentic means nothing, it just is. Here it’s something different – an aspiration, or an homage, or an orthodoxy. Kris started out following that pursuit but somewhere along the way fanaticism gave way to fun: uni fried rice, fried chicken sandwiches, French wines paired with your pad Thai. It’s allowed, it’s delicious, it’s Cindy Crawford and Contact High sexy. Why not if it tastes good? Why not if it feels good? Transgressions always have the smell of sex to them.
So what you’re experiencing with Night + Market is a colorful contrast of languages, a raucous mashup of establishment and experiment, the pure and the perverse, slutty and sublime – a lot like LA really. Think of the place as an outsider art piece for everyone: born from tradition, conceived in context, informed by irreverence, and executed with passion, conviction, and ideas. Dreams do come true, they’re just not always the same ones you wasted your youth on. So go eat, explore Kris’s ephemeral art. Soak in the scenery. Taste the flavors of transgression.