Asia’s Most Influential: Malaysia’s 30 Tastemakers 2021
This month sees the introduction of the Tastemakers List, the third instalment of the Asia’s Most Influential (AMI) series that identifies leaders across Asia in their respective fields. Able to be viewed both literally and figuratively, the term 'tastemaker' certainly stands for chefs and bartenders, who work directly with ingredients and flavours, but also encompasses other movers and shakers in the food and beverage industry, from content creators to ceramicists who elevate life's experiences through food.
1/30 Amy Zheng, Sabrina How and Lee Ching Yi
Profession: Food entrepreneurs and founders, Amazin' Graze
Impact statement: For making healthy snacking in Malaysia accessible and craveable
Long before the healthy snacks market reached its current dimensions or plant-based milk and protein even became 'a thing', three friends dreamed of a world where better options would abound. August 2015 saw the launch of Amazin' Graze at a weekend market in Bangsar Shopping Centre and as they say, the rest is history. Available in more than eight countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia, Brunei, and the UAE, Amazin' Graze's carefully curated line of nut butters, granolas and other delicious pickings empower people the world over to make better food choices.
2/30 Andrew Tan
Profession: Bartender and founder, 61 Monarchy, Hyde at 53M and The Good Batch
Impact statement: Providing liquid gratification to Kuala Lumpur's tipplers
The owner of sister speakeasies 61 Monarchy and Hyde at 53M, Andrew Tan also fathered The Good Batch, a brunch-focused café in Damansara Utama. In fact, most of his work seems to revolve around the bustling neighbourhood, unless, that is, he's off on other errands, from advising clients on artisanal cocktails to educating consumers on the storied lives of spirits.
3/30 Annisa Iwan
Profession: Cheesemaker and founder, Milky Whey Cheese
Impact statement: Proving it's possible to make European-style cheeses in Asia while incorporating Asian elements in her offerings
Only a handful of hobbyists manage to make a living out of their passions. Cheesemaker and cheesemonger Annisa Iwan, who dived into caseiculture about a decade ago, is one such person. If you thought it impossible to find quality made-in-Malaysia (or Asia for that matter) cheese, think again. Milky Whey, Iwan's tongue-in-cheek cheese company, makes a mind-boggling selection of cheeses, from mozzarella to mascarpone and Smoked Tembaga (not unlike French Reblochon) to Alba (Milky Whey's brand of Brie). Hotels and restaurants, including Flock, Tatler Dining's Best Sustainable Restaurant 2020, are proud to carry her cheeses instead of importing theirs internationally.
4/30 Benjamin Yong
Profession: Restaurateur, F&B entrepreneur and founder, The BIG Group
Impact statement: A serial restaurateur consistently bringing successful concepts to diners
"I’ve lost count of how many restaurants I’ve opened in my lifetime," muses Benjamin Yong, which prompts us to tick off a list in our heads: Ben’s, Plan B, Ben’s General Food Store, Ben’s Chicken Shop, Benbino, Beast, Bella, not to mention a slew of other eateries that enjoyed their heyday before gracefully curtseying goodbye. "As for supermarkets, I opened three in total before selling Ben’s Independent Grocer." With a supermarket chain being taken off his hands, does Yong have more time on his hands now? Anything but. "We’re still operating 20 stores whilst developing some new ideas," says the harried but happy businessman, who blasts away any notions that pure luck has brought him to where he is: "Passion only gets you so far. Beyond that, it’s hard work." His advice to fledging F&B entrepreneurs? "Be original. Stop copying Pinterest or imitating what others are doing. Your own fine-tuned ideas stand better in the test of time."
Related: Couple Spotlight: Benjamin Yong & Elizabeth Lee-Yong
5/30 Bernard Yeoh
Profession: Restaurateur and director, Kai Mayfair, London
Impact statement: The first Malaysian restaurateur to groom a Michelin-starred restaurant
A debonair gentleman who debunks the myth "Jack of all trades, master of none," Bernard Yeoh proves that having more than one passion stokes your fire instead of causing you to burn out. The ex-Olympian who was part of Malaysia’s national shooting squad laughs about his philosophy of embracing imposter syndrome—some of his fine-art photographs are displayed in Genting cruise ships—but turns serious when the topic turns to Chinese cuisine. His restaurant Kai Mayfair, which has been running since November 1993, was awarded its first Michelin star in 2009—marking a first for a Malaysian restaurateur—and has maintained momentum for 12 consecutive years—no small feat in London’s saturated dining scene.
See also: The Top 20 Restaurants In Malaysia In 2021
6/30 Chef Wan
Profession: Celebrity chef and co-owner, De.Wan 1958
Impact statement: For putting Malaysian cuisine on the world's culinary map
Colloquially known as Chef Wan, Datuk Dr Redzuawan Ismail is Tourism Malaysia's culinary ambassador and was named 'Local Champion at Tatler Dining's Best Restaurant Awards 2018. Not only was he the first Malaysian chef to give the late and great Anthony Bourdain a high-speed introduction to Malay eating etiquette, but he also recently schooled Youtube comedian Uncle Roger on the finer points of cooking traditional Malay cuisine.
7/30 Chee Keong Kho
Profession: Bartender, drinks consultant and owner, Coley and Bar Pahit
Impact statement: The 'big brother' of Kuala Lumpur's bar industry who has done it all, though you won't hear him boasting about it
Cocktail culture in Malaysia simply wouldn't be the same if it weren't for Chee Keong Kho. Known as 'CK' to those near and dear to him, the self-effacing drinks specialist is best known for founding Coley (Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020) and Bar Pahit, but has developed countless bar concepts and menus in his two decades of serving in the F&B industry. "Perseverance and fearlessness! That's CK—he always finds a way to make things happen," says Riizal Junior Joe Utto, one of Kho's fellow mixologists.
Related: CK Kho, Founder Of Coley And Pahit, On Why Virtual Drinking Trends Won’t Last
8/30 Darren Teoh
Profession: Chef and proprietor, Dewakan
Impact statement: Highlighting Malaysia's reserve of jungle produce and under-appreciated ingredients
His mercurial moods make him an intimidating figure, but this chef's mindset is leaps and bounds ahead of his contemporaries. The chef-proprietor of Dewakan was among the first in F&B to really push for the use of, say parkia speciosa or 'stink beans' and local chicken giblets in fine dining as opposed to imported white asparagus or foie gras. Today, Teoh still sets the standard for a new generation of chefs who are trying to define modern Malaysian cuisine.
Throwback: Dewakan's New Space Observes Quiet Splendour Instead Of Showy Display
9/30 David Lei and Joe Heng
Profession: Co-founders, Fish For It
Impact statement: For making fresh and safe seafood from Malaysia's own waters more easily accessible
The optimistic duo behind online seafood delivery portal Fish For It rarely tell their customers "no," unless it is to describe their offerings: "No preservatives, no additives, no chemicals, no carcinogen, and no antibiotics." An e-commerce platform meets wet market, Fish For It champions seafood from Malaysia's own waters and are so confident about the freshness of their seafood that they guarantee dissatisfied customers free returns. Furthermore, the team takes it upon themselves to form close relationships with fishermen and chefs for the purpose of building more awareness around our oceans.
10/30 Eddie Ng
Profession: Sushi chef and co-owner, Ed.ju Omakase
Impact statement: Daring to break boundaries in the time-honoured tradition of sushi-making
At the risk of ruffling a few feathers, there is proof that sushi's roots stem from China, so could Eddie Ng's style of sushi be considered a return to roots? Controversially dubbed 'contaminated omakase,' the food at Ed.ju Omakase—an amalgamation of Ng's first name and ju, the Japanese word for 10 (the sushi bar seats only 10)—incorporates ingredients such as black vinegar from China and sees Chinese-style dishes such as abalone congee while also welcoming a wealth of techniques and flavours.
Also seen in: Sushi Summit In APW: Not Even A Trip To Japan Could Have Matched This Experience
11/30 Edmund Tan and Lim Shiew Li
Profession: Confectioners and founders, Inside Scoop, The Ice Cream Bar and Sweet Escape
Impact statement: For founding Malaysia's unofficial national ice cream chain while offering diabetic-friendly dessert options
While 'first-rate' ice cream in the 90s and early naughties were largely synonymous with western brands such as Häagen-Dazs and Baskin-Robbins, this all changed when pioneers such as Inside Scoop decided to upend the market. Husband-and-wife team Edmund Tan and Lim Shiew Li bid farewell to the finance industry in favour of F&B because they wanted to create local and unique ice cream flavours that Malaysians could relate to. Inside Scoop's success was swiftly followed by The Ice Cream Bar, an offshoot specialising in spiked cones, and Sweet Escape, which takes diabetic customers into consideration by offering low- or no-sugar options.
12/30 Eiling Lim
Profession: Malaysia's first independent bottler
Impact statement: The first and only female Malaysian to bottle her own brand of whisky, small batch gins and cask-aged vermouth
Naming whiskey, watches and wine as her three biggest vices, Eiling Lim is, nevertheless, just as spirited about the other finer things in life.Take for instance, her single cask whiskies, small batch gins, and ask-aged vermouths. Collector's items in their own right, these spirits aren't cheap, but not extortionately priced either; after all, everything Lim does revolves around the pursuit of pleasure. "We bring variety to the whisky market with reasonable prices so that no one is obliged to keep my bottles as an investment and not to open them," she says.
Related: A Woman & Her Whisky: A Spirited Interview With Eiling Lim, Malaysia's First Independent Bottler
13/30 Ili Sulaiman
Profession: Television host, recipe creator and founder, Ili Pot
Impact statement: Making cooking less daunting for home chefs
Little did she know it, but Ili Sulaiman’s present skill sets were in the making since the tender age of three. Whether she was sitting on the kitchen counter and snapping long beans with her grandmother or polishing her Ps and Qs under her parents’ supervision, the personable chef and entrepreneur was absorbing bits and pieces of knowledge that would propel her forward in the future. Radiating warmth and happiness, Sulaiman became the TV chef the world couldn’t get enough of on the Asian Food Network and Food Network Asia, but she has done so much more out of the limelight, from running a food delivery business—long before GrabFood and Food Panda even came into the picture—to training underprivileged youth through the Agak Agak Initiative which she co-founded. She was quick to roll out Ili Pot, a steamboat and grill delivery service, at the peak of the pandemic, and is an outspoken advocate for heightened awareness around polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is more prevalent among women than we think.
Also seen in: 19 Inspiring Women In Malaysia's Food And Drink Scene To Follow On Instagram
14/30 Jaslyn Rangson
Profession: Professional baker and founder, Jaslyn Cakes and Dew Bangsar
Impact statement: For making life just that much sweeter
The opposite of attention seeking, Jaslyn Rangson and her eponymous bakery are household names in the Klang Valley. But Kuala Lumpur's 'cake queen' didn't simply ascend the throne overnight; hard work and unwavering passion helped cement Rangson's pathway to becoming one of the country's best-loved bakers.
Related: Sweet Talk With Jaslyn Rangson Of Jaslyn Cakes & Dew Bangsar
15/30 Jason Yeoh
Profession: TV show host and founder, Full Time Living
Impact statement: For shining the spotlight on salt of the earth folks in farming and other food-related industries
Sure there is joy to be had in armchair travel programmes that take you from Turkey’s spice bazaars to Tokyo’s Toyosu Market, but nothing beats the excitement many Malaysians felt while watching Jason Yeoh hop from wet market to wet market in Malaysia. The appeal in Jason’s Market Trails is twofold: not only is the host a basic bloke offering good banter, but the locations on screen are actually accessible for many living in Asia. The same attractive qualities apply to the majority of Yeoh's TV programmes, which are too numbered to name, but which he produces in addition to hosting under the aspirational brand Full Time Living.
16/30 Jean-François Arnaud
Profession: Pastry chef and founding director, JFA Consultancy
Impact statement: Guiding a whole generation of young Malaysian chefs in the art of patisserie
Recognised as a Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF), an accomplishment that sticks with you for a lifetime, Jean-François Arnaud is a respected expatriate based in Malaysia. Not only has he paved the path for many a young pastry chef via his professional teachings, but he has also prepared many fledglings for the fast-paced world of international pastry competitions.
Throwback: Sweet Victory For Team Malaysia At The 30th World Pastry Cup In France!
17/30 John Hans-Oei
Profession: Urban farmer, co-founder and CEO, Cultiveat
Impact statement: Propagating sustainable urban farming in Malaysia
Powerlifting and precision farming might seem like an unlikely combo, but then again, John Hans-Oei has never allowed society to put him into a box. The Gen T honouree co-founded Cultiveat, a B2B and B2C urban farm that supplies zero-pesticide, non-GMO produce to restaurants and customers countrywide, but has been the CEO of Centenary Million Group for even longer; the latter handles Microbs, an eco-friendly and sustainable product and solution service for organic waste management.
18/30 Kevin Wu
Profession: Food tech entrepreneur and founder, Ento
Impact statement: Farming roasted crickets, a sustainable source of protein, for human consumption
Recently named one of seven Malaysians on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list, Kevin Wu is the brains behind Ento, which rears crickets for human consumption. Before you turn up your nose, know this: not only is insect protein one of the most beneficial to our health, but entomophagy might also be a solution to saving the environment.
Related: Ento Offers A More Sustainable Source Of Protein With Roasted Crickets
19/30 Kim Choong
Profession: Founder and editor, Thirst Mag
Impact statement: Commemorating the history of drinks in reportage while celebrating and supporting the industry
A self-described "one-stop cyberspace home for all subjects of liquid persuasion," Thirst Mag is the country's only publication dedicated to chronicling soft and hard drinks-related news in Malaysia and abroad. The seed for Thirst Mag was planted while founder Kim Choong was working at Mongoose Publishing (now defunct), and while the magazine first started out in print, it made a timely move to the digital sphere, where it continues to spread the gospel of good drinking culture. Keep an eye out for Thirst Mag's unique food and drink pairing events, which Choong coordinates in collaboration with the bar and spirits industry.
20/30 Loh Yi Jun
Profession: Food writer, recipe creator and founder, Take A Bao Podcast
Impact statement: A chemical engineering graduate turned food content creator
If Loh Yi Jun had to break down all his present projects into a pie chart, what would it look like? "I would say it's a three-way split between cooking food, writing about food, and talking about food! But 100 per cent of it brings me joy!" enthuses Loh. Making food geekery cool, Loh approaches Asian cuisine from an analytical standpoint and makes potentially technical information approachable to audiences everywhere. Best of all, he loves food. Like, really loves it. Simply listen to his cooking demos with an ASMR quality and the sounds he makes as he samples his completed products.
Related: What I've Learnt From Running A Food Podcast For BFM
21/30 Melba Nunis
Profession: Kristang chef and award-winning cookbook author
Impact statement: A guardian of Kristang cuisine, an endangered creole ethnic style of cooking with roots in Melaka
The most gregarious grandmother you’ll ever meet, Melba Nunis is, to use the proverbial phrase, "the hostess with the mostess." Simply attend one of her famous supper clubs in Selangor to take stock of her high energy while supping on Eurasian dishes you won’t find elsewhere. But Nunis didn’t just make it onto our list by virtue of being an excellent cook or entertainer; what she’s doing matters, because in a matter of years, Kristang cuisine might be off the tables forever. A result of Portuguese settlers marrying into the Malaccan community in the 1500s, the Kristang are a creole ethnic group of people with a unique Eurasian culture and cuisine. Time and migration are the main reasons for the dilution of Kristang culture, a niche thing, as it is—which makes Nunis’s role as a guardian of Kristang cuisine all the more important. The chef has provided and continues to provide many with a better understanding of her unique heritage.
22/30 Ong Ning-Geng
Profession: Chocolatier and founder, Chocolate Concierge
Impact statement: Bringing Malaysian cacao to the fore
To discover Malaysian gastronomy is to encounter Chocolate Concierge products at some point: whether in Entier French Dining's macarons served in a dried cocoa husk or as dessert 'dim sum' at the W Kuala Lumpur (complete with edible chocolate chopsticks and chopstick rests). Founder Ong Ning-Geng's mission from day one has been to radically advance recognition for Malaysian single-origin chocolate, which he has done, but the highbrow chocolatier is only just getting started.
Watch: How Ong Ning-Geng Has Carved A Name For Single-Origin Malaysian Chocolate
23/30 Ping Coombes
Profession: MasterChef winner, Malaysian food ambassador and cookbook author
Impact statement: Representing Malaysian cuisine in Western media and via cooking classes and supper clubs
Less a Cinderella story and more a tale of perseverance, Ping Coombes' rise to becoming the winner of Masterchef UK in 2014 was a point of pride for all Malaysians, but especially for those who like herself, hail from Ipoh. Since moving to Wiltshire in South West England, Coombes continues to make media appearances while also educating the public about Malaysian flavours via Ping’s Masak Club and Ping’s Makan Club, a cookery school and a supper club respectively.
24/30 Renyi Chin
Profession: Restaurateur and co-founder, myBurgerlab, myPizzalab and The Good Food Alliance (GFA)
Impact statement: For showing other F&B entrepreneurs that there is no "i" in team
Proving that leaders aren't born but made, Renyi Chin recognises that he is a work in progress—which is more than most people will admit. To say that the introspective tastemaker is gung-ho about community building would be an understatement; simply survey myBurgerlab and myPizzalab's customer-centric marketing and observe how both band together with other eateries via The Good Food Alliance (GFA).
25/30 Rozana Musa
Profession: Ceramicist and founder, Bendang Studio
Impact statement: Her handiwork elevates the art of plating
A household name in Malaysia, Bendang Studio's wares can be found in some of Malaysia's hippest restaurants and hotels. Founder Rozana Musa has maintained her humility, regardless. The ceramicist has come a long way from her first ever studio based in her backyard. Surrounded by swaying paddy crops, the space took on the name "bendang," meaning "rice fields" in Malay.
As seen in: 4 Malaysian Ceramic Tableware Brands That Enhance The Art Of Plating
26/30 Rizal Junior Joe Utto
Profession: Bartender and founder, Bar Flips
Impact statement: Contributing to Malaysian cocktail culture and representing the country internationally
Not to be confused with the French street artist, JR (short for Rizal Junior Joe Utto) brings his artistry to cocktails instead of the canvas. With roughly twenty years of experience in F&B and hospitality under his belt (Nexus Resort Karambunai; Qba at The Westin Kuala Lumpur; Elixir Club; View Rooftop Bar at G Tower Hotel; Marini's Group; W Kuala Lumpur), the Sabahan has got the art of mixology down pat, and is slated to start his own bar in his hometown of Kota Kinabalu this year.
As seen in: The Bartender Workout: 5 Moves To Make You A Better Mixologist
27/30 Sean Yoong
Profession: Food writer and founder, Eat Drink KL
Impact statement: An ex-reporter turned food writer who founded Malaysia's definitive guide for restaurant news and openings
Behind every food blog is an organised eater, which in Eat Drink KL's case, happens to be ex-journalist Sean Yoong. Yoong's wildly popular website was hatched over cocktails some twelve years ago as a means to keep track of his favourite eateries, but has grown into Malaysia’s definitive guide for restaurant news and openings. Emboldened by the anonymity that the internet affords, keyboard warriors are a recent phenomenon of internet culture, but what we respect most about Yoong are his genteel manners and professionalism, even when confronted with a disappointing meal.
28/30 Shawn Chong
Profession: Bartender and founder, Mizukami Collective
Impact statement: Shaking up the bar scene with fresh takes on drinks
"It's partly our fault," admits Shawn Chong with regards to the tailored cocktail movement in Kuala Lumpur. "Had it not been for Omakase+Appreciate (which Chong and ex-partner Karl Too founded in 2013), there would be more respect for fixed menus." Whether or not this is true, Omakase+Appreciate (now defunct) ushered in a new appreciation for craft cocktails in the country before closing its doors in 2020. The end of an epoch also marks the birth of a new one: today, the multiple award-winning mixologist can be found working on multiple projects under the Mizukami Collective, including The Chow Kit X Mizukami and Mizukami Highball at Shiso Dining.
29/30 Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah
Profession: Founder and chairman, Sunway Group
Impact statement: The owner of one of Malaysia's largest conglomerates has created ample jobs in F&B and hospitality while bringing in new concepts, including Gordon Ramsay's first restaurant in the country
Heaped with accolades, from Asia's Most Influential 2020 to Forbes Asia Hero of Philanthropy, Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah is largely associated with education, healthcare and sustainable development, but deserves a seat in Tatler's pantheon of Tastemakers too. His contributions to F&B and hospitality are often overshadowed by his other recognitions, but were it not for his love of food and wine, some of our favourite restaurants, such as Jeff's Cellar at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, would not exist.
TATLER TIP: Jeff's Cellar was crowned one of Tatler Dining's Top 20 Restaurants 2020 and snagged the Best Dine-In Service Award 2021.
See also: The Top 20 Restaurants In Malaysia In 2021
30/30 Trisha Toh
Profession: Food stylist
Impact statement: Fusing food and art in whimsical scenarios
Out go-to food stylist for the past three covers of the annual Tatler Dining Guide, Trisha Toh is the person we trust when there is a need to whip up whimsical food scenarios. From creating trompe-l'œil situations involving lemons and eggs to decorating footwear with discarded produce, Toh's projects remind us to see the fun in food—and life. Check out her breathtaking direction for a series of photographs on Sushi Kazu, cover star of the Tatler Dining Guide 2021, here.