At his debut restaurant Dewakan, chef Darren Teoh is shaking up the Kuala Lumpur food scene by fashioning Malaysian cuisine in new ways.
The 10-course menu at Dewakan doesnâ€™t list any farm names, no aberrant foraged plants, not even a cocktail. Nothing about it hints at a trend; nothing about it hints at anything, because itâ€™s a first.
Opened in March just outside of Kuala Lumpur on the new Glenmarie campus of KDU University Collegeâ€”which runs Malaysiaâ€™s best culinary arts programâ€”Dewakan is not only Malaysian chef Darren Teohâ€™s first restaurant, but itâ€™s also the first restaurant to advance Malaysian cuisine into something modern and imaginative: curried-mango gazpacho, Forbidden Rice porridge with a mushroom broth infused tableside, gula melaka marquise. After apprenticing in Europe at restaurants Amador and Noma, Teoh returned home woefully uninspired by his countryâ€™s food scene, with chefs rarely venturing out of shophouses without relying on imports like foie gras and salmon to appear more upscale. He decided it was time for Malaysia to stop looking west for ideas and ingredients and start looking to itself.
â€śI want to show Malaysians that they can take ordinary food and make it fantastic,â€ť says Teoh, which has translated into both reinterpretations of Malaysian recipes and new dishes built around native flavors. This, of course, has required establishing quality sources, including permaculture group Eats, Shoots & Roots where Teoh goes to pluck herbs and flowers (for the blue dot of peaberry sauce on the plate of red prawn and prawn tartare) and fishermen who send seafood that was swimming just hours before (like the pomfretâ€”so flaky that if itâ€™s not forked properly, it will never make it to your mouthâ€”lying beside a small pond of sparkling water chestnut foam).
At many talked-about new restaurants, the food often ends up taking second stage to the buzzy scene, but Dewakan is designed for quite the opposite effect. The glass-sided space is elegant but plain; meals are served with a single glass of wine, red or white. Because forward-thinking as it may be, Dewakan is actually quite a classic restaurantâ€”wholly about the food.
Dewakan; KDU University College, Utropolis Glenmarie, Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Selangor; 60-3/5565-0767; 10 courses for US$55.
This article originally appeared in theÂ August/SeptemberÂ print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śMalaysian Modernâ€ť)