1. What made you realize that a career in the food industry was the right path for you?
I love scrambled eggs. When I was really young, about Standard 4 – 10-years-old I think, we were supposed to bring something to class. I asked my Mom to teach me how to make scrambled eggs. When I saw everyone so happy eating the scrambled eggs that I had cooked, it made me happy too.
After SPM I enrolled in the School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts at Taylor’s College but during that time I also worked part time in hotels and restaurants. When I graduated in 2011 I was headhunted back to the JW Marriot Hotel. But my ideas clashed too much with the old guard. In 2012 I took a one-month break in Australia and came back inspired to open the first Burger Junkyard.
I don’t think I can cook as well as other chefs out there but I’m good at managing, engineering. I help people open and/or improve their restaurants via my F&B consultancy TAQ Resources. I do their marketing, branding, training, all the backend work.
2. What do you consider to be the most important lesson you have learnt along your journey as a chef /operator?
Practicality – most chefs cook what they want. We have to look at it from the consumer side too. As an example we’re helping with the rebranding of The Beer Factory (TBF) – like reintroducing pork on the menu because of customer demand.
Another thing I did was to set up a central kitchen (Artisan Foods) to supply to all my food establishments. I deliver to friends too, like EspressoLab, and we OEM products for restaurants. Some of my friends do food trucks and they can go through 13 – 14K of stock per month. It’s amazing.
3. What do you consider to be your defining quality as a chef/operator?
Again, practicality. Many don’t design the menu or the kitchen, these are not bombastic things. I like to build and design things, plot the workflow, figure out the construction. If you see my kitchen (at Steaks & Lobsters) I don’t just have an exhaust hood; I designed it to have a fresh air system which pumps in clean air. If not the smoke will just be recirculated back into the restaurant.
There’s a lobster restaurant from Singapore coming in to Malaysia and they came into my restaurant. We got to talking about importing lobsters together. The F&B world is so tough. We shouldn’t be fighting but supporting each other.
4. How has your outlook on cooking changed over the years? (If it has changed.)
I used to really follow the books, if customer doesn’t like it – you don’t know how to eat! I started to realize while working with other owners, everyone has their own ideas on food. Between the Kitchen and the owners, I’m the middleman, convincing both parties together with my own input.
So I’ve learned the customer is always right! At Steaks & Lobsters I use fresh lobsters, but what if the customer says frozen – what can I say? Some customers say my beef is not as juicy, not as pink as other steakhouses serve. But the reason for that is that we age the beef for better flavour and tenderness. That’s why the colour is different. And after we cook the steaks we rest them, so the juice doesn’t go all over the place. So now we’re being more visual, showing the meat in a glass chiller, menu cut outs, an aquarium for the lobsters – educating the customers.
5. Lastly, what motto do you live by?
You never know what you can do until you really push yourself. At ground zero I worked 18 – 19 hours, starting at RM3 – 4K. I pushed all the way to reach here. Don’t wait for things to come to you.