Ask A Chef: What's A Telltale Sign That A Restaurant Has Heart?

Tastemakers

October 25, 2018 | BY Tien Chew

Chef Darren Teoh of Dewakan takes us to his go-to neighbourhood "fast food" joint to talk about his restaurant, how his palate was formed, the hardest thing about being a chef and more.

Photo: Courtesy of Dewakan
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Darren Teoh

With his restaurant Dewakan regarded as one of the best places to sample progressive Malaysian cuisine, chef-owner Darren Teoh is a man who prefers to let his food do the talking.

A Generation T honouree, it's safe to say that there is no other restaurant in Malaysia that is currently doing what Teoh and his team are doing – bringing ancient ingredients to light via modern cooking techniques and a whole lot of creativity.

Not just focused on advancing the culinary scene forward with his unique take to dining, Teoh also wants to see the next generation of Malaysian cooks advance both locally and on the world stage, inspiring all who come through Dewakan's doors.

A PJ boy through and through, Teoh recently took us to his regular chicken rice restaurant in Taman Paramount called Shuang Siew for a quick bite and a friendly chat.

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Ask A Chef: What's A Telltale Sign That A Restaurant Has Heart?
Photo: Khairul Imran/Malaysia Tatler
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Why Chicken Rice?

"It's my go-to food, stuff that I regularly eat. When I don't want to think too hard about what to eat and I just want to have something fast, although by far not nutritious but tasty, chicken rice just comes to mind. It's my version of fast food," says Teoh.

Photo: Khairul Imran/Malaysia Tatler
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What's A Telltale Sign That A Restaurant Has Heart?

"How clean the place is a very good indication. If you take care of the place that you're working in, it shows that you care about what you're doing. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but just being clean will make it a more pleasant eating experience. It shouldn't matter if you're eating at the roadside or a shack somewhere," Teoh explains.

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Ask A Chef: What's A Telltale Sign That A Restaurant Has Heart?
Photo: Khairul Imran/Malaysia Tatler
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Tell Us What You Loved To Eat Growing Up

"I'm a big rice pot, so I like eating rice. My dad would make his special fried rice once a year, which was basically stuff he used from my mom's leftovers that was really nice. I used to eat a lot at home, my mom, aunty and grandmother are great cooks, and that's how my palate formed," says Teoh.

"Eating at home is a privilege and that's something we've really missed out recently. Even if it's a small meal, cooking at home is very important because you're respecting ingredients, traditions, culture and the process a lot more than eating out. You're not as involved eating out, you put in money and it's a transactional relationship," he adds.

Photo: Khairul Imran/Malaysia Tatler
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What Is The Hardest Thing About Being A Chef?

"For me it's probably hitting expectations. When you cook, you put yourself out there for critique and when people don't enjoy your food as much you may receive harsh unncessary criticisms. There's very good critique from people I respect and then there are critiques from people who want to say things just for the sake of it and that's the difficult part," says Teoh.

"I do think that if you're going to say something you have to be well informed about the things you're about to say. If you don't like it and you say you don't, that's fine because that's preference, but hitting expectations is one of the toughest things we have to manage these days".

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Ask A Chef: What's A Telltale Sign That A Restaurant Has Heart?
Photo: Courtesy of Dewakan
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What Is Dewakan All About?

"The oldest rainforest in the world is here in this country and it's impossible to believe that in this whole biodiversity of things there's nothing that we can't eat. It was important to me to bring these ingredients out and to find some sort of way to make them interesting and approachable to people," reveals Teoh.

"It was also interesting to me, and to inspire cooks around me, to look at these ingredients and find some sort of value in them. I can't say what I want guests to experience at Dewakan, but I what I can say is that I would like them to have a compressed and distilled version of the experience that I had," he adds. 

Photo: Courtesy of Dewakan
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How Do Your Run Your Kitchen?

"For the team that and the things that we're doing, the work that goes into what we do is massive, but it's also poignant. It's important to us and that's why we do it. And because it's important to us, it's easier to share our vision on a plate. Everything we do has care put into it, the way we assemble and cook it as well as the way that it looks aesthetically," says Teoh.

"It's not just one person, it's the whole team. The people in the kitchen, the guys in the front, we try to make the whole experience as seamless as possible. We have an extremely solid team and it's about the people. Dewakan is a highly disciplined restaurant and I cannot do anything without these guys".

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Ask A Chef: What's A Telltale Sign That A Restaurant Has Heart?
Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay
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Name A Food You Just Don't Like

"What I don't like? Stinky tofu, it's really horrible. I had it once in Hong Kong at a place that was supposed to be a famous for it. I bought one and I halved it with someone else. I gagged, spat it out and just couldn't put it back in my mouth," the chef says.

"I dumped it into the bin, went to a nearby 7 Eleven, bought a Snickers and I didn't share that with my friend who also gagged," he adds half jokingly.

 

More chef talks: James Won of Enfin | Darren Chin of DC Restaurant | Carrie Scully of Tiki Taka | Jeff Ramsey of Babe | Raymond Tham of Beta KL | Malaysia Day Special: Chef Wan

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