Under The Chef's Hats
This feature originally appeared in The Peak March 2022
As we settle firmly into 2022, several questions remain up in the air when it comes to the future of Malaysian gastronomy. Will 2022 be the comeback year for our local gastronomy scene? What ingredients and trends are poised to temporarily take social media by storm only to be forgotten the year after? Most importantly, what exciting developments will take root?
To take a peek into what the future holds, I speak to chef Darren Chin of DC Restaurant and Shaun Ng of Hide to talk professional aspirations, personal growth, and predictions.
How do you see the local gastronomy scene progressing in 2022?
Darren Chin: I think that food and wine pairings are really catching on. People are becoming more receptive to experiences that one can only find at a restaurant. The limited operating hours in the F&B scene caused by the pandemic resulted in more people wanting to experience both food and drink together during dinner.
Shaun Ng: I see more young chefs, like myself, embracing the chef ’s table concept, and I think that’s the direction where the gastronomy scene will evolve. You can expect more of these restaurants to open across the country, as the concept gives chefs the opportunity to display their creativity.
What about gastronomy on an international level?
Darren Chin: I’d say that quality still pays. A lot of people are paying attention to food sustainability but I’m taking the opposite route. The pandemic was a reality check – whatever you thought that you were doing right before wouldn’t have let you survive during a global catastrophe. So, you had to do whatever you could to survive, reverting to your instinctive nature. And when you’re that instinctive, you do whatever it takes to put food on the table for your family. Quality pays; it pays for everything. You can’t fake quality.
Shaun Ng: Due to greater economic circumstances, diners in neighbouring countries are more receptive to spending more for fine dining. Because of this, restaurants abroad can better focus on using better ingredients to deliver new, inventive experiences that satisfies both a restaurant’s desire to innovate and draw new and returning customers.
In your opinion, where do you think the Malaysian food industry currently sits?
Darren Chin: The current intention isn’t to advance Malaysia’s international standing or to achieve national pride right now. Instead, it is to make sure that the business survives. The older generation is either afraid or have perished. I’m being very blunt, but it’s true because it’s a young market out there. Recently, I ordered claypot chicken rice because I was so captivated by an advert that I saw online. The younger generation of cooks have modernised their operations by digitising more parts of their business, and this strategy is really catching on right now.
Shaun Ng: Malaysia’s food scene is progressing at a very slow pace, partly due to COVID-19. I think that increasing salaries for jobs in the industry would be a good start to picking up the pace. Greater financial rewards can help incentivise workers to feel better appreciated and motivated to create better dining experiences, which in turn benefits the customers as well. Since moving back, I’ve also noticed that Malaysians love following food trends, so much so that other restaurants would emulate popular dishes just to cater to consumer demand.
What ingredients or food trends do you think will take the spotlight this year?
Darren Chin: I’ve noticed a lot of sushi restaurants opening. Techniques such as sous vide, blow torching, and dry aging and dehydration still prove to be popular ways to prepare food. I went backwards instead, going back to the basics, which is what I’m good at. You can’t dismiss a solid cooking foundation.
Shaun Ng: I foresee a lot more local produce that most Malaysians aren’t even aware of being offered in restaurants, like a small yellow eggplant called terung asam that I recently came across. Restaurants such as Dewakan, Akâr and Atelier Binchotan are already doing this. I can’t pinpoint any specific ingredient, but I believe that local produce in general will become more popular.
When it comes to our food scene, what excites you in 2022?
Darren Chin: We all need to do some self-exploration that takes us beyond Malaysia. I must travel to do this. I realised in 2021 that if a business can survive with just seven months of operations, technically, I can take a sabbatical for the rest of the year. That’s my mission for 2022, to take a long sabbatical and go back to travelling the world to places like France.
Shaun Ng: Recovery from COVID-19 and watching diners becoming more receptive to trying new flavours and possibilities when it comes to food. That’s what I’m focusing on for this year, as I feel that recovery needs to happen first before we can focus on advancing the F&B scene through education on both the professional and consumer sides.
What does professional growth look like for you this year?
Darren Chin: To scale higher and plan an exit point. You’ll get old and you’ll get sick one day, how long can you keep doing this for? Now is the time to ride on me for everyone who believes in what I’ve been doing. We’ll all be prosperous together; it’s going to work.
Shaun Ng: I’m looking towards growing the business, but I also aim to better myself as a chef when it comes to expanding my skills and knowledge as a leader. I want to push Hide to the next level, and I want to shape the restaurant into a place where my staff can come, better themselves and further the industry when they eventually leave Hide.
How about personal growth?
Darren Chin: I’m going to buy a Lamborghini Urus!
Shaun Ng: I’d like to improve my skills in the business side of things and kitchen management to further my career. These two aspects are the most important goals for me right now.