It’s difficult to separate Malaysians from food, which definitely plays a major part in our local heritage. One proponent of Malaysia’s food culture is none other than the head chef of Dewakan. Although he does argue that nasi lemak isn’t really a Malaysian dish. “What about nasi lemak is Malaysian, very, very few things about it now are local. Culturally yes, but when we look at the ingredients, it isn’t part of our original culture,” he argues.
What Darren Teoh takes pride in is the use of truly local ingredients, which come from the bounty of Malaysian soil. His experimentation and skill thus led Dewakan to once gain the accolade of being one of the top 50 restaurants in Asia. We sit down with this chef to find out some of his thoughts on food and how he’s guarding our heritage through the use of local ingredients.
What is your personal favourite food?
Honestly, I prefer anything that is made with thought and heart. Wherever I go, I’d be able to tell if a person has put their mind and care to the dish, but of course, most times it’s yes. After all, no one is going to invite you over for a meal and not prepare it well.
What ingredient excites you the most?
It’s the unknown ingredient – the one yet to be discovered. That is what I want to work with. Something I don't know yet, which is interesting because there’s always a caution of revelation, every time you step into the jungle and discover something different, or when a farmer gives you something you’ve yet to work with... there’s always the exploration and discovery, which is compounded when you then take that ingredient and direct it as many ways as you can.
Could you give me an example of one such ingredient?
There’s this particular ingredient we’re sort of an emissary for, called Kulim. I heard about it two years before I found it, then it took another year before we were able to bring it into the restaurant. And the Kulim fascinated me because of what it tastes and smells like, plus it is endemic and has a cultural significance with our indigenous people. So once we managed to get some, we tried to take it in as many directions as possible, but truly what was happening was us learning and understanding it – finding out it doesn’t react the way you thought it would, then adapting it into the menu.
Also when I’m invited to other countries, I take some along and give it to other chefs to try and incorporate into their dishes; it’s always interesting to bring something that represents the DNA of the terroir of Malaysia to others.
Darren wears a jacket, shirt and trousers by Dior men; TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02 Automatic Chronograph 44mm in fine-brushed, polished stainless steel with green dial and steel bracelet; he is standing beside a Volvo S60 T8 R-Design