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  • Writer's pictureTien Chew

How A Chef-Owner Takes Care Of Business

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

This feature originally appeared in The Peak June 2023


Jack Weldie, Chipta 11A

Chef Jack Weldie
Photo: Chipta 11A

Chipta 11A is a one-of-a-kind modern Malaysian sushiya that reinterprets the iconic Japanese dish with local ingredients and influences. Chipta also isn’t afraid to weave global influences into its culinary narrative, an approach that very much echoes the personality and outlook that its chef-owner Jack Weldie has towards food and the restaurant business. Jack’s formative years as a chef would teach him several essential things – the fundamentals of Japanese cooking, a kitchen and running a restaurant.

His transition from chef to chef-owner was a natural progression as a creative and an entrepreneur. “It’s good to own something you can call your own, even though it’s a tough business. There’s creative freedom in making the calls needed to ensure the restaurant feels the way I want it, without first consulting a team of business partners,” said Jack.

How will he know when he’s made it? According to the East Malaysian chef, it will be when he has created a better life for himself and his family, and successfully passed on hard-earned culinary knowledge to the next generation of chefs. “I feel that I have this gift inside me to create things in many different ways, and I want to pass on these skills and knowledge before I’m unable to. My dream is to own a few restaurants, and for me to fulfil that dream, I need to train and work with talented chefs I can trust to run the restaurants.”

Chipta’s early days were challenging despite his ambition and drive to make a name and create a better life for himself. “When we started Chipta, we didn’t know what the public reception would be like. Nobody knew who I was; Chipta had a casual, home-style setting; and we were charging RM250 per person. We never thought of going big and focused mainly on the food,’ said Jack.

Chipta 11A oyster sushi
Photo: Chipta 11A

Through hard work, grit and determination, word of Chipta’s unique take on sushi started spreading, drawing diners eager to experience the latest sushi restaurant in town. However, when doing something disruptive and inventive, there’s a high chance others may not understand the significance of one’s creative choices. That’s where Diane Ong, Jack’s wife, business partner and all-around rock, comes into the picture.

“When we first opened this place, using the word ‘curate’ with food was unheard of. It had always been a word associated with art and fashion. However, I have witnessed Jack’s passion repeatedly when it comes to handpicking the best produce he can find to ensure that the food he serves is always of the highest quality,” said Diane. “Because we want to showcase local produce and Jack puts so much personal effort into every aspect inside these four walls, we call the experience you get at Chipta ‘curated dining’. Despite this, many don’t realise the effort we put in or the uniqueness of what we have handpicked.”

Chipta 11A fish dish
Photo: Chipta 11A

“Diane and I are a team when it comes to running the business. I’m a very focused person when it comes to the food we create, so I trust Diane to take care of the financial part of the restaurant,” adds Jack.

This dynamism between the two has helped foster the success and accomplishments that Chipta has today. Its uniquely Malaysian take on sushi has amassed a growing body of fans looking for something special to indulge in, so much so that Chipta has since spawned a new offspring in APW, called Waig. This is a clear sign that the husband-and-wife duo have carved out something uniquely theirs in the booming KL food scene and that people are all for it.


 

Yogesh Upadhyay, Flour

Chef Yogi
Photo: Flour

Yogesh Upadhyay is an artist, first and foremost. His restaurant, Flour, both in its previous and current iterations, is the canvas for him to showcase how Indian cuisine can evolve beyond its rich history without sacrificing authenticity. The techniques he uses to mix and meld these flavours come from a breadth of culinary know-how across various cuisines, ranging from ancient times to the present day.


As Yogesh tells it, Flour was envisioned in 1999, right after he graduated from hotel management school. His dream never came to pass and was tucked away somewhere in his heart until, sometime in 2016, he cooked a meal for his wife that she adored so much it rekindled his love for cooking. “My wife was the oil that reignited the dying flame that was my passion for cooking, so much so that she decided to leave her job to start Flour with me in February 2017,” said Yogesh.


So intense was the reawakened fire that Yogesh developed a strong vision for what Flour in its entirety would be. And that meant becoming a chef-owner to assume total control and waving off any potential investors. The husband- and-wife team also had clearly envisioned what they wanted Flour to be from the beginning, deciding that they didn’t want to open the restaurant in a location with high foot traffic and that Flour would never compromise on its chef-owner’s artistic vision.

roti and lobster
Photo: Flour

Flour, in its first iteration, found a home in Damansara Heights, becoming almost massively popular in just a short time, due to Yogesh’s firm understanding of Indian food and his ability to bend the rules to execute his vision of what Indian food can become without twisting it into something unrecognisable. “We were serving 6,000 to 6,500 guests a month, operating at only five and a half days a week. We had no time to breathe as we tried to keep up with demand,” said Yogesh.

And at the height of Flour’s popularity, Yogesh did the unthinkable, closing down the restaurant because it no longer fit his artistic vision and re-opening the restaurant in downtown Kuala Lumpur. “Everyone said that I was crazy for changing Flour. My entire thought process for Flour was to move walk away from the atypical food we consume, move the cuisine further, and change what most people know about Indian food, like butter chicken. And while we do served dishes like butter chicken, 90% of what we serve at Flour are original dishes,” said the chef.


“We were so busy that I could no longer come out and talk to my guests and tell them about the food they enjoyed. At the same time, rent was slowly starting to increase. Long story short, I became fed up and told my wife to shut it down after three years,” he explained further.

flour fine dining
Photo: Flour

Yogesh felt so burnt out despite all that success that he thought closing Flour meant giving up on his dreams. Yet, fate had different plans for him. Yogesh’s wife discovered a quaint place for rent in sleepy Jalan Kamuning for him to execute his vision and convinced her husband to start again. Thus, Flour Rises was born, a refined re-examination of the way Flour operated and served its guests.

Today, Flour is a Michelin-selected gastronomical temple dedicated to Yogesh’s vision of recreating, reinventing and redefining Indian food, specialising in tasting menus that draws inspiration from India’s diverse culinary timeline. “There is only one perk to being a chef-owner. It is singular. You can do whatever you want. You control it all. And just that one perk is enough to satisfy the artist in me, despite it being incredibly tough to make it in this business,” explained Yogesh.


 

Aidan Low, Akâr Dining

Chef Aidan Low
Photo: Akâr Dining

Opening in 2020, Akâr pays homage to our nation’s rich and diverse culinary heritage and ingredients through a contemporary lens. Its chef-owner, Aidan Low, gained an appreciation for cooking from his family, especially his grandmother, early on in life. He cut his teeth in culinary schools in Japan and France, before eventually returning to Malaysia to make a name for himself.

After trying his hand in both the Malaysian and Singaporean markets, he was starting to feel like he was losing some of the passion that kept him going and realised that, if he was going to start his own restaurant, it would be now or never. “I was 28 and it was a lot of risk pouring my funds into a new business, so I did a series of pop-ups for around six to nine months to test the market before opening up Akâr,” said Aidan. “I find myself taking big risks in my life, such as leaving to study in Japan despite having a good career at the time. It’s in the same vein that led me to start Akâr.”


The restaurant opened right before the pandemic hit, featuring a more casual setting where guests would order from an à la carte menu. As the world paused and took shelter at home, business came to a halt and Aidan was thrown a curveball. And so, he went through a period of self-reflection and decided to switch gears to go all into gastronomy. “The main reason I started with an à la carte menu was that it was safer, but then I realised that we already lost a good amount of time and that it wasn’t my goal to open a restaurant. The goal was to create something unique that was only available in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, and to nurture my passion,” he explained.

Akar dining dish
Photo: Akâr Dining

When it comes to inspiration to keep Akâr’s offerings fresh and exciting, the young and talented chef gets the fuel he needs from peers, the gastronomy scene in Japan and one extraordinary individual. “There’s no singular person I go to when it comes to getting inspiration except for my mom,” said Aidan. “She’s always there for me when it comes to making the right decisions, and she’s a great person to talk to. She’s my rock.”


While success in the restaurant business comes in many forms, its definition isn’t always the same for everyone, especially for someone juggling the roles of a chef and a business owner. Despite the growing number of accolades Akâr has received within its three years of operation, its chef-owner remains grounded and humble.

akar dining dessert
Photo: Akâr Dining

“Success for me as a chef means having a happy team and restaurant. It’s interesting to see how our industry has evolved into becoming more materialistic-minded due to the recognition some can get. But I don’t think that gives you true happiness; for me, it’s to have a really happy team because then they’re driven to prove themselves,” said Aidan. And the chef believes being happy can have a powerful trickle-down effect, as a happy boss leads to a happy team, which leads to happy guests, the latter of which equals success for Aidan when he puts on his business owner cap.


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