Chen Kim Leun, Head Chef
Hard work does pay off, especially when you’re doing what you grew up loving, albeit unknowingly, in an environment that nurtures the individual, and helps create a camaraderie with likeminded people in the industry.
For Kim, it’s under the wings of serial restaurateur Jenifer Kuah (Feeka, Food Foundry, Butter + Beans and Bricklin), and executive chef Christian Recomio (Moonfish Café in Aberdeen, Scotland) in the Sitka Eatinghouse and Sitka Studio located at Jalan Batai in Damansara Heights. Kim turned from a junior staff to head chef of Sitka Eatinghouse three years ago, after deciding to take a leap of faith, following his growing passion for cooking from the age of 16, in a family who favours home-cooked meals over takeaways.
Not only that, Kim has also gone as far as the semi-finals of the Southeast Asia region for the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition late last year, defeated merely by a feather-light breath with his aged duck with daikon fondant, puffed quinoa and confit duck bao, to the region’s winning representative Jake Kellie of Burnt Ends, Singapore’s aged pigeon of pepper leaves, hay and strawberry gum.
“Whatever dish that is not up to par, or comes out unsatisfactory from the food tastings, they will not see the light of day outside of the kitchen.”
“Straightforward, simple, innovative, but most importantly, tasty,” Kim sums up his cooking style. “The dishes are mostly based on Malaysian Chinese dishes I grew up eating, and perhaps, even had a hand in cooking myself.”
“We have but to translate these ideas into a contemporary menu of delicious, produce-driven food,” he adds. “Cuisine that is not only comforting but creative, so much so that visiting customers can extract a good experience from it, and will come by again, built on the trust that we will give them a great time and feel at home.”
Such culinary innovations that have gotten the returning customers hooked include the Chicken and Chive Dumpling drenched in chilli oil, and the Japanese Caesar salad revised with drunken chicken, mizuna, seaweed and apple, playing off Malaysians’ taste bud that is slightly skewed towards the Japanese cuisine.
Besides that, Sitka Eatinghouse has rolled out some new dishes on the menu: the Unagi Cracker, a play on the modest sardine on toast, as well as the Char Siew Biscuit served with smoked yogurt blanketed in taco pockets, inspired by co-owner Christian’s travel to Mexico.“
Among a kitchen team that exudes positive attitude, as well as the ambition to learn and contribute, we practise the discipline of serving the most thought out food to our customers,” Kim comments about his team, consisting of sous chef Teo Karlyn, and assisting cooks Muizz, Chew Cha Xin and Brandon Kam. “Whatever dish that is not up to par, or comes out unsatisfactory from the food tastings, they will not see the light of day outside of the kitchen.”
Named after the Alaskan-named Sitka spruce that grows in both Scotland and the highlands in Malaysia — a mutual representation of Christian and Jenifer’s ancestries, Sitka Eatinghouse started off as Sitka Test Kitchen in 2014, before it evolved into a casual eating house that serves modern Asian cuisine, paired with a boasting collection of wine that doesn’t break the bank.
Two years down the road, this evergreen tree grew a few feet with Sitka Studio upstairs, where a slightly more cultivated vibe takes over amidst an interior that is reminiscent of a Scandinavian dining room with warm wood tones and lighting, furnished with clean Sibast chairs, and a bright open kitchen. Five- and Seven-course menus are offered, with dishes influenced by the ingredients used, family recipes and a mix of other cuisines from around the world.
“When we opened Sitka, it was during a time when there were many cafés embracing the Aussie café culture,” Christian and Jenifer answer, when asked about the competitive air in the F&B industry in Malaysia. “While everyone is busy pushing out Aussie brunches, we decided to pare the experience down and refine it slightly, serving instead Mexican and Taiwanese street food like bao’s and tacos, which were already gaining popularity in New York City and London.”
“At the end of the day, our direction is crystal clear: to always serve delicious food, provide smooth service, harnessed with a good team, and topped with a great playlist for the fun times,” the owners add.
Sitka Eatinghouse is located at 8-5 Jalan Batai, Damansara Heights, and serves lunches and dinners daily from 11AM
Marcus Low, Restaurateur
Table & Apron
Many self-proclaimed foodies who have a habit to visit the independent eateries around Klang Valley would have stumbled upon the minimalist establishment of Table & Apron in Damansara Kim, which serves up unpretentious fusion cuisine that favours the Malaysian taste buds.
Favourites from this restaurant include the house-brined fried chicken with crispy buckwheat dredge, and the sticky Sanbanto pork ribs with a finger-licking-good kicap manis glaze. After four years in the F&B industry, Marcus and his army of cooks and staff in Table & Apron have decided that it’s time to take things to the next level — literally.
Making a more regular use of their intimate private room above the restaurant, which until recently has served as a hosting ground for private events, they created Gather, a series of dinner sessions for a limited number of guests, where the more senior chefs and staff get to flex their creative muscles a little, based on the ever changing themes.
“Table & Apron is a people-first business. When we mulled over the question of what makes people want to come back to us, we identified it as how we make people feel at the end of the day. It actually starts with the individuals of the team, the people who come into work day in, day out,” Marcus says. “We’re certain that if we put the people on our team first, we’re pretty sure that they are going to provide great experiences to the people who come to the restaurant.”
“Often times, when chefs head out to work in restaurants, they are subjected to competitions and critics. We at Table & Apron, however, believe that the young culinarians need a backbone and the support, and as an established restaurant that has been around for a while, it has allowed us to feed that kind of environment to the mix bag of chefs, kitchen and front-of-house staff who came to our doorsteps through word of mouth and personal recommendations,” he goes on to explain.
“The main intention of Gather is to be a platform for our chefs to grow creatively with more creative freedom to go about the dishes that they create, in a space and environment that allow them to do just that. Not only that, take bigger risks, and engage with the guests on a more personalised level.”
While retaining the casual vibe amidst the family-oriented space downstairs that Table & Apron is known for, upstairs at Gather, there is a certain finesse that goes into the making of the dishes. The senior cooks who experiment in Gather — head chef Asya Tan, assisting cooks Daniel Yap, Kae Huey See, Yi Jun Loh, and front-of-house personnel Miki Lie, share that more thought is put into the much bigger picture; it isn’t so much of the mere dishes served anymore, but the stories behind each plating that goes to the guests at the table, who have paid a bit more than the average check downstairs.
Since March, Gather has kicked off with a theme dedicated to the local producers and purveyors, paying tribute to the people the restaurant has worked with for almost the entirety of its lifespan, and gratifying the relationships formed that have allowed the restaurant to open certain doors.
“I don’t think there are enough restaurants here that talk about where the food comes from, and there’s nothing more that we should be shouting about than exactly that,” Marcus says.
“The stories of these local producers and purveyors create a very rich context for our guests to engage with our cooks about on their road to understanding and appreciating more about the meaning of the food they are tasting —the coming together of the produce, and the creative practice that went into the dishes put forth to them.”
For example, the story behind one of their dishes, the Mud Crab and Ricotta Dumplings, stemmed from the backyard of the Fruit Forest Farm all the way at the Sigar Highlands in Kelantan, which came to be in 2012, supplying to supermarkets, and only started knocking on the doors of restaurants until a couple of years ago.
“They came to us with cartons load of excess overripe tomatoes, not knowing what to do with them. Even though its flavour is more intense, and the texture further compromised, it’s still a beautiful product with a lot more sweetness in it,” Marcus recalls.
“Table & Apron is a people-first business. We’re certain that if we put the people on our team first, we’re pretty sure that they are going to provide great experiences to the people who come to the restaurant.”
“We took the load off them, and decided to concoct a tomato consommé base that is strained overnight until it comes out as crystal clear water, in which swims the handpicked mud crabs wrapped in ricotta dumplings made from pasta with parsley oil.”
Whilst the abovementioned theme has run its course at Gather, there is still much to look forward to in the coming months: for April, the team will immerse themselves in humble Italian flavours, but with a modern Malaysian flair twisted in the ribbons of spaghetti.
“We need restaurants that are open to cultivating or nurturing cooks who come out from culinary schools, or who have chosen to switch careers to hospitality, you know, give them that confidence to actually do something substantial, and I believe that Table & Apron is able to achieve just that with Gather,” Marcus says.
Table & Apron is located at 23 Jalan SS 20/11, Damansara Kim, and is open for business from Tuesdays to Sundays, whereas Gather takes place on alternate Fridays and has limited seating
Photography by Xerxes Lee / Awesome Image Studio
Videography by Andrew Loh
Art Direction by Joyce Lim