VIEW FROM THE PEAK

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents - MINDY TEH, ED­I­TOR-IN-CHIEF

COURSE CÉLÈBRE

So much goes into the cre­ation of a dish that its very pre­sen­ta­tion be­lies the amount of thought and fine-tun­ing vested. I had the priv­i­lege of wit­ness­ing this painstak­ing process first-hand dur­ing din­ner with the owner of Kai May­fair at his famed restau­rant, just a cou­ple of months be­fore its con­fer­ment of the Miche­lin star was an­nounced for 2019. Eileen, his wife, had joined us at the din­ner ta­ble and a new dish of scal­lops was pre­sented.

What en­sued was noth­ing short of fas­ci­nat­ing as both hus­band and wife ex­pounded over what worked, what didn’t, which in­gre­di­ent seemed over­pow­er­ing, whether the dish should be kept in the menu or ex­cised in favour of some­thing else. It was a thor­ough anal­y­sis. “Don’t mind us,” Bernard says to me half­way, apolo­get­i­cally. Eileen smiled: “We do this a lot.” Later, when Kai May­fair’s head chef, Alex Chow, dropped by to say hi, fur­ther de­bate fol­lowed be­fore both restau­ra­teur and chef came to an agree­ment.

This level of cu­ra­tion is im­per­a­tive and con­ducted daily at Kai May­fair. It is quite pos­si­bly the rea­son why the restau­rant has been able to main­tain its one Miche­lin-star award con­sec­u­tively for a decade, with Yeoh and Chef Chow ef­fec­tively the first Malaysian re­cip­i­ents of the cov­eted ac­co­lade.

The se­cret to the restau­rant’s suc­cess is de­cep­tively sim­ple, with Chef Chow main­tain­ing that team­work is of the essence. “This is a busi­ness that is live,” says Yeoh. “The most ju­nior per­son can have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on the busi­ness.” At the same time, there is a high level of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and per­for­mance that Yeoh says makes “ev­ery day is a spe­cial day”, with Chef Chow op­er­at­ing at “an ef­fort level that is way above” what most can sus­tain.

There’s some­thing to be said about the restau­ra­teur’s own ex­tremely high stan­dards and will­ing­ness to ex­per­i­ment. “I think that con­tin­u­ous pres­ence of doubt is re­ally healthy be­cause it makes us keep look­ing to do bet­ter,” says Yeoh. “Can we re­fine this? Can we make this more in­ter­est­ing?”

The cor­po­rate world can iden­tify with much of what Kai May­fair is try­ing to achieve, with the likes of Dato’ Ja­gan Saba­p­a­thy even go­ing for the F&B jugu­lar and mak­ing a suc­cess of it with a chain of out­lets in­clud­ing Mezze, Birch, Huck­le­berry and the speakeasy, Skull­dug­gery. Dato’ Ja­gan, like Yeoh (a qual­i­fied lawyer), fell into the busi­ness quite by ac­ci­dent. “There was no great de­sign or wild plans to start an F&B empire,” he says. “We are our own worse crit­ics, so we are com­mit­ted to do­ing the best that we can and do­ing it with pas­sion.”

While it all sounds like hard work, the re­sults should look ef­fort­less with cus­tomers en­joy­ing them­selves to the point where they be­come reg­u­lars. “When the pa­trons’ chil­dren start bring­ing their own chil­dren,” says Yeoh, “that’s when you know you’ve done it right.”

With Bernard Yeoh and Chef Alex Chow at Kai May­fair.

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