August 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
It has been barely 24 hours since I touched down, my head is still lingering in a heritage sphere. One would wonder how deep an impression a city would make after a couple of days. How my feet remembers the little lanes between a main street, or how my heart allows the scent of cumin spices to pursue the next dining destination, exploring the preserved local architecture, or simply just letting the island’s indecisive weather depict our routines.
Penang has always had a special place in my heart. As a younger family, we would visit relatives and friends over the holidays or special occasions. All other random visits would either be a result of serious food cravings or missing good company.
This trip emerged slowly. We had no plans for anything but to spend quality time together. We spent the days mostly sleeping in till unlikely hours and waking up to local food on the table. An array of char kway teow(fried wok-hei filled noodles), steamed local sweet corn, nyonya kuehs (sweet treats), freshly sliced pineapples and homemade kopi. Then we would head to Hin Bus Depot, an old bus depot turned art exhibition centre, for yoga, a photography event/workshop or a walk around the flea market.
The flea is filled with artistic vendors, recreating traditional prints, clothing, food with new materials or homegrown products. A nasi ulam stand calls for own grown ulam (herbs), freshly folded into turmeric rice and sprinkled with tempeh crumbles. A bookshop decorated with old tiles painted with images of historical sites and calligraphy stationary sets. At this point of the day, I am already feeling spoiled with an abundance amount of good food and great company in an immensely enriching environment.
A kefir soda maker and her daughter who manages the art space behind; a graphic designer turned bartender/cook who runs the retail shop, The Swagger Salon; local beer brewers, Red Door ; Wholey Wonder, vegan/yoga studio; and the resident cat, Eugene.
Where was I when all these home-grown talents were transpiring?
Somewhere at the other side of the world, searching for answers to questions I yearned to understand.
How do we make ourselves relevant to society? How do we preserve what we have and still change what is needed? What is needed?
All things are relevant. All these are subjective to its own usage. Money. Materials. Time. Distance. Food. Clothing. Art. Car. A house. They all mean something to us fundamentally but conjured up different interpretations.
I used to think that having three meals a day was a necessity. But realised we could make our own eating choices without looking at our watches but simply by asking ourselves, are we hungry?
I used to believe that growth is tearing things apart and letting new materials take over. But learnt that growth can start from understanding what the past gave us and using new materials to help preserve its authenticity, without damaging or hindering what the original maker had intent for it to be. Now that’s, craft.
Some evenings were spent dining out but when circumstances allowed, I could feed the family. One of my favourite family meals dishes comes from Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries. I initially made this as a psychology student in Leeds. We had a big house party with young college students, which called for simple finger food and cheap beers or cider. This time, Lemon Peppercorn Roasted Chicken Wings were paired with sautéed seafood, fried rice and pork rip soup. A rather intimate and slow affair compared to the youthful days. We also took the chance to bake cakes for tea. A staple Grapefruit Yogurt loaf and vegan Chocolate Banana Walnut brownie. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them its dairy & egg-free. I couldn’t bring myself to understand how rich and moist that loaf was. It was perhaps the best vegan chocolate cake I’ve ever concurred. They say, wisdom comes with age. Perhaps, baking experiences are the similar, so to speak.
On a sleepy Sunday, I woke up early and followed his mum to the local ban san (a hokkien slang for wet markets). We walked around the busy street with vendors trying to get our attentions, buyers grabbing fresh produce, ingredients, snacks, and so forth. I stumbled upon an old bakery, where they still use their barehands to fold wet cake batters, proof breads and use margarine for nostalgia.
I stood at the counter too long to their likings and observed them manoeuvre from counter to counter. Their quick punching on proof doughs, prudence in tipping breads out from hot pans and carefully wrapping cooled pastries were so well orchestrated. I wonder how long they have been doing this. I wonder how many times the lady had asked me what I want when I lost all awareness while in the baker’s trance. She finally grew impatient, and left me alone. I continued staring gleefully at the perfectly season deck ovens, stainless steel trays and arrays of pastries. How long have we been doing this in our own backyard and yet search for greener pastures to create trends? Have we grown impatient or bored of ourselves? How does creativity prevail while we have little appreciation for authenticity or simple craftsmanship?
The food we eat these days has heritage. It is nostalgic for the flavours, textures and environment. But the food we ate, sometimes have little nutritional values. We were cultured to adapt to this because we were at war or perhaps not so well informed. While I go on commenting about how we should take care of our own well-being, I sometimes wonder if I should stop caring. For people don’t care what they put in their bodies and when I say too much, it isn’t well-received.
A little sadness sank in that evening. Sitting outside staring on the quiet streets, asking myself how can we continue to educate or bring awareness when people don’t want to? Because being ignorance is blissful and we could continue living in a egomania society, breading excessiveness and immorality.
I always say, how you do one thing is how you do everything. Pour enough sauce for your salad or chee chong fun; buy one not take advance of buy two get one free (there is no need); take what you need and leave what you don’t. Our heritage is narrowing, because our education is advancing without teaching ethics or mindful-living. I feel grateful for meeting passional collective individuals on this trip. A little light to capture essence of hopes for a better community.
August 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
Baking this lovely cake is a ritual at our space. I remember meeting her family for the first time. They rolled up to our shop and was delightfully surprised that we had a gluten free option sweet for her son. Week after week, we became a weekend treat after their long family walks. Five years later, she is one of my closest friend and most inspiring woman I know.
When this came out from the oven yesterday, I knew it wasn’t my best. I had lost touch of the whisk, spatula, melting time, temperature and essentially, the kitchen. I haven’t been doing this for a long time and also felt so at home. How can one feel so lost at home? It takes a while to get myself familiarised with Gerard, Sam and Blu. I remember their particular manoeuvres. Holding onto the off/on button while reducing the speed; pressing one side of the mixing bowl down so that the whisk can ease into the egg whites better; never preset the temperature because he is always faster than you think.
All these familiaritires spoke closely to my heart. Afterall, 4 years of long hours in the same space, how could it possibly not?
I love being able to tell the story of a simple cake and how it brought us customers who became very close friends. I love being friends, forging bonds over simple meals and being their daily bread/coffee. Beyond these, I am also a home cook who is obsessed with tinkering ingredients, temperature, methods and re-adjusting recipes. “A little more salt for this today”,”a little more of that than that”, “that didn’t look like that before, why is it this way today?” There is a certain expectation we live up to. More often that not, we are our worst critic by putting ourselves down and then comparing to others. But truly we know that comparing ourselves isn’t as bad or good, until we are better than the last meal we cooked. The goal as a cook is to always be better than your last cake or dish.
A couple of days ago, I caught up with a friend where we spoke closely about being authentic and drawing positive energies. It is so easy to get sucked by naysayers or the rat race. While we are obsessed with what the media portrays and how we should live our lives vicariously through theirs, we also unwillingly blend into the social norm. So what if we are a no reservation place or do not believe your gossips about this other person you are talking about? Perhaps if we all have an open mind or heart about the next thing we hear of something new or old, we could all be better for ourselves and others too.
Here is to “not living to the status quo, giving unconditional love and having the courage to be your authentic self”.
I am leaving this country, again. Yes this time its full throttle, no visa drama and just left with packing. It feels a little bit like how Nancy Silverton left Canpanile. A year ago, that relationship didn’t work and someone had to go; so I left, even when I wasn’t ready to leave emotionally. It was the lost of the space that made me a little hollow. I had no idea what to do, so I travelled, did odd jobs and found home ground somewhere else. I’m still on this journey. One thing I learnt this week about being yourself, be daring enough to pissed people off.
Want a beer?
*oh yes, we named our equipments*
June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
“If you read stories, you get to see the entire world. And not just the stories you find in books and film, but the stories of strangers sitting next to you on the subway or in an ordinary restaurant. You can find the world in your own story, too – you just have to keep your eyes open.”
― Steve Dublanica, Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
I remember reading Waiter Rant, right after culinary school. It was the soft cream that finished off a simple butter cake. Something I looked forward to at the end of every shift as a pastry cook in a small French/Californian restaurant of 5th Ave at Santa Monica. He wrote about his observations around the restaurants and his life as a waiter. I admired his audacity to speak out in an invincible voice for the large group of us who went unnoticed behind the line. I adored the way he reflected on society’s perceptions of the service industry. Though they were mostly, rants, they were truths.
They say the truth sets you free. In many ways, they do. But truths are like art pieces, which beauty lies in the perceptions of the beholder. In a place of ranks or solitude, one looks through their own glass to define what is and not. In many ways, the truth doesn’t set you free. The present moment does. I could tell you that the slice of cake is awfully bad for you and you could jolly well believe me because that is the truth to you right at that moment. Does that set you free? No, it holds you down with guilt and displeasure. But if you accept being in the moment, you would have been honest enough to yourself that the slice of cake is bad and the awareness would bring you nothing but peace.
I have kept a resilient heart and soul with the adventures. Something to keep me absolutely grounded at this moment is being with the greater crew. Everyday I learn something new about them and how we can be better for ourselves. No one stands alone and do well for him/herself. You got to find something good out of them and encouraged their strengths. For the sandless ocean bay community, I’ve grown to find some friends which share common grounds.
I have given up defining or stereotyping things/people/events. The world is too big of a place for us to narrow everything into corner stones. The moments we live daily is truly what we have and can only sincerely appreciate them when they are accepted fully.
Sometimes on my off days, I visit one of my favourite parts of this island. In many ways, we grew up eating these little ang ku kuehs during tea time or after school. You can find them in the corner snack stall in our canteens and at a local bakery on the way home. There is a particular kueh-kueh stall at my parents’ hometown in Taiping, Malaysia, which makes the softest and most fragrant traditional ang ku. While I reminisce those little moments, we have moved on to a different culture. Back in the big city where locally roasted coffee is proudly served in little neighbourhoods and traditional bakes are still integrated our daily lives. We are redefining coffee moments. A Colombia El Mirador and Kenya Kagumoini brew with mung bean paste wrapped in glutinous rice pastry at our favourite coffee shop.
Ji Xiang Confectionery
Blk 1 #01-33 Everton Park,
May 10, 2017 § Leave a comment
How are you? What can we do for you today?
I’ve been in the service/hospitality staff for a decade. Every time when we are on the floor these questions are asked again and repeated throughout the day. Being in this island made me realised that people don’t care much when a service staff approach guests with friendliness or courteously. They retort to their own hole of reading menus or being on their devices.
Working in the US/UK is different. The basic human encounter is much simpler. Coming from an individualistic society, they seem to care more. They also seem to deeply cherish food and dining with their companions.
It seems that everyone here has an agenda behind their back or can’t even digest an honest question we were taught in kindergarten. A society which loves food so much but fail to even manage not having devices on the table, a kitchen that trusts chefs or a friendly conversation with servers.
What have we become? What are we doing to ourselves? Years of learning to how to be service staff/trained pastry chef/operational manager washed away in a lawful society.
I have a fair share of customers-becoming-friends. But that is also because I was in an environment that thrived on the idea of a community or being honest. It dwells back to the food we serve. How simple and honest the cooking somehow translate to how we serve our food. The more we try to load it with too many ingredients, the more we try to explain ourselves or complicate the whole experience, the more we deceive others. Giving people options are a great way to show your generosity but too much of it make them feel entitled.
Yes, that is what they deemed us as. Millennials who are too self-entitled to the vast amount of choices we have these days. Go ahead and pick up a menu that doesn’t give you options. A choice to change your pasta or bread or alternating it to this with that. If they didn’t have the option, would you ask for it?
“A little less ginger on the Ginger Chicken”, “More chocolate sauce on the Double Chocolate Caramel Cake”, “No egg in the Chinese Fried Rice”, etc. The crew will joke that we will serve eggless omelettes, non-alcoholic Alcohol beverages and hot ice-lattes. When these sort of orders come through the tickets, and we see you laugh at the server having a hard time keying them in but truly, the jokes are on you.
A meal is a meal and a meal itself. Why make it so difficult when life already is?
Last year at MADFEED (I know I have brought the event up so many times!), we spoke about millennial chefs: the difficulties of bridging us privilege kids, to be able to choose this profession, and our mentors, who find difficulties with staying afloat.
What is missing? Us not respecting you for your hardwork and whining about the daily grind. Us complaining that you are not open to our ideas because you are too old-fashioned. I belong to the modern group because I did have a choice and sold my soul to it. It was clear for me to learn as much as I can from my chefs or mentors, whether or not they came from the hospitality background. There is always something to master.
Patience. Sincerity. Perservance. Resilience. Knife techniques. Assembling kitchens. Dealing with business partners. Building trusting relationships.
The goal is to stay relevant. How does one stay sustainable with society? For the larger part, it really is difficult to catch up or change the system. One habitually practice ways only to realise they have to alter them again. Age catches up, habits don’t. They stay stagnant. Good learning attitudes and open hearts allow growth. A developed city has the most versatile talents because of the type of people they have not the amount. When old people stay hip and young folks grow old souls, there comes innovations. Have you not seen the movie the Intern? There is always something to learn no matter how many times you have done it.
Bauisou indigo dye techniques, Chef Alex Atala and Lyn Slater are great examples of sterling new world meets old world brands/people. If we are both open to listening to one another, and find mutual ground instead of building hierarchies, wouldn’t it be so much easier for both millennials and mentors to come together? The question now isn’t what we do but how do we do so. How do we create a work culture that allows both sides to come together? There is no need to look further than putting all ego aside and be transparent as you can to one another. That’s something we learn from kindergarten too ~ don’t lie, be honest.
“Rather than love, than fame, than fortune, give me truth. “, H.D. Thoreau
The last two months here have been trying. I have been as authentic and trusting as I could, but somehow it has been pushed beyond limits. So you do what every loyal dog would, you stop caring. Truth is, the loyalty is limited when tested.
May 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
When we look up at the sky, we are trying to find the way to ourselves.
What is a community? A few individuals coming together and striving for a united goal? Or collective personalities wired to generate something better? Both scenarios sound similar to one another but none of them truly understand the beauty of a community. To understand the collective, we need to question the individuals. How they view themselves and what their roles are. The beauty that sync us lies beneath our heartbeats. It is in the way we devote ourselves, and commit in being inclusive.
I have yearned to be part of a community. I have wanted to integrate people’s lives with each other. A space for one another to be themselves through honesty, selflessness and trust. A bond of reliance for us to feel loved or inclusive.
There is a certain level of commitment when we dedicate ourselves, forming interdependence. One that takes time and effort to sow and nurture into a beautiful wheat field. A seed is carefully rooted into the ground for natural growth, then germinating into stems/leaves, eventually sprouting to a tall confident plant. A plant is nothing beyond itself, but a few of them forms something special. That something special transcends differences.
Last two weeks were rather challenging. We were setting up the space and have been pulling long shifts to misc, prep, clean, organise, plan and so on. There were too many of us, yet there wasn’t enough collectiveness. The irony in forming a space where miscommunications and ego override transparency.
It reminded me of how we set up the previous spot. How we cemented the floors, cleaned the equipments, test recipes and gradually gain confidence with time. How the community around us were patient, yet curious and grew with us. Somehow it felt right. Somehow it really thrived. For a long period of time, we gather a good amount of love and trust. Somehow, we lost this essence overtime.
Perhaps it is just for me.
A friend and I have been discuss the meaning of friendship for a while now. How we make the effort to reach out but the other party doesn’t. How we continuously want to involve ourselves with their lives and only to be turned away with a cold reply (or even better, silence). We understand moving on with life or getting busy but it is a two way street, with every step comes a closer bond. Free spirited hearts carrying heartfelt banters of care and concerns. While we can grow apart, we can also grow inclusively with humility.
I have watched various spaces filled with people who come and go. Many that stay beyond their “time” and many who couldn’t stay still because of something more. I have rooted myself in places where I thought people would grow together with time. But only to be disappointed, with time itself.
Looking up to the sky last evening,I have decided again to slowly let go of the strings I attached myself to. That this little big island, cannot be a place for a fish out of water like me. After five years, there is something better than forming a better relationship with a piece of device than the person living next door. If this is living, then the living is rather nonchalent. We are too afraid to bring the walls down; yet the only thing that brings us together is by lowering them.
Vulnerability in community snowballs. Once its members become vulnerable and find themselves being valued and appreciated, they become more and more vulnerable. The walls come tumbling down. And as they tumble, as the love and acceptance escalates, as the mutual intimacy multi-plies, true healing and converting begins. Old wounds are healed, old resentments forgiven, old resistances overcome. Fear is replaced by hope. – M.Scott Peck
If letting go looks like the beautiful sunset, then let the light in.
A little tip of enhancing beetroot hummus with laksa flowers leaves and sambal. Oh what would I do without a little kick of spiciness in my food?
April 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
You are too honest, she said.
Well I have been very transparent with my life with people I’ve met. I have been quite real with everyone and the downfall is, people do get tired of listening to your stories. Over the week I’ve reflected on friendships that have failed to withstand the rough weather. How often do we go about our lives to reach out to others only to see a two blue ticks, a “read” with timestamp and ill-reciprocated responses? It’s not the best feeling in the world. You try again but no respond. It leaves you wondering why you even bother, what you have done wrong or perhaps they honestly are just busy with their lives.
But we always say we make time. The priorities change and everything kind of just moves on. I hold on to things and people dearly. There is a certain sentiment that a moment shared between two people or more that I somehow appreciate. While the souls or physical existences connect, and intertwined but are ghosts to my daily routines now.
Coming to terms with distant bonds have been hard. In this city I had wished to call home but have not seem to established a sense of belonging. I have had them and still have very found memories of laughters and joy with hose that had withstand the tide, I am so grateful for. But leaving and coming back to them, doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.
We sat down at the dining table last week and questioned authenticity. I just could not bring myself to accept the fact that some people are what we thought of them to be. Our minds love to play tricks on us, we delude ourselves into anything possible and anything factual. Facts and fiction walk a fairly thin line depending on which end of the spectrum you are on.
But the truth lies when the blue two ticks don’t get a respond, or a phone call doesn’t get returned, you ought to close that chapter and start a new page.
Almost two years ago, someone told me I couldn’t be what I am. I couldn’t run a space, I can’t write a cookbook, I can’t run because I have no endurance. I shouldn’t be vegan, I shouldn’t say what I feel and I shouldn’t be what I endeavour to be.
This morning, I ran for an hour and almost hit the 10km mark. Last week, we finished off a menu that was solely written by women. I am still on a plant based diet and living just fine.
We are all afraid to disappoint others’ expectations. It takes us a while to realise that we are deluded with our own imaginations formed by our upbringing or exposure. We are all so fearful of failing or falling short. Not meeting deadlines, not getting to the finishing line etc, the greatest disappointment is nothing but letting yourself down.
“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The weekend is here again, soon it will be gone. The little pet project I have been working on is setting off. There won’t be weekends on weekends, and breakfast on breakfast. I start to wonder the lives others’ live. For those that enjoy the daily 9-5 and holidays, there are those at the other side of your world that make those hours for you. But instead of letting that get to me too much, I’m starting my own set of routines for after beer runs, yoga sessions and quiet sharing reads.
The kitchen crew I work with now are mostly Malaysians. And as much as I can’t love my own country’s political federations or climate (please don’t say one malaysia), I do love our people’s resilience to life. They also have a very good sense of humour when a crisis hits. The jokes are on us but we love the attention, perhaps that is why we have the best Comedian on Earth.
So here goes to the new page.
You can be my beurre noisette to form a great cookie or folded into a simple muffin batter. Thank you for always being a text away, sharing your day and making my day count. Looking forward to form a community of modest cooks and great humble beginnings. We have been procrastinating this for way too long!