25 August 2011

Kayu Manis: Lunch with Chef Wan

If you haven't heard of Chef Wan, look him up now. He's a Malaysian celebrity chef who has a number of cookbooks and cooking shows and has travelled around the world showing off the best of Malaysian cuisine. In 2009 he won "Best Celebrity Television Chef" from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and was appointed as a Culinary Ambassador by Tourism Malaysia in 2010. In 2011 (er, last week) he came to Wellington to cook at the Wellington Fisher & Paykel Masterclass along with local favourites Martin Bosley, Al Brown, Desmond Harris and Alexa Johnston. So: a pretty big deal.

On Saturday, less than 24 hours after a very full day of eating and a breakfast of miso soup with spinach leaves (appropriate considering the food eaten all weekend)  I rolled myself down the hill to Kayu Manis on Cuba St where I met up with a munch of food bloggers (yep, I'm just going to slip that one in there), some of the lovely people behind the Malaysia Kitchen NZ initiative, and (!!!!!) the super-enthusiastic and personable Datuk Chef Wan. I was so lucky to be able to get up close and personal with Chef Wan (not to mention spend time in the company of some very lovely ladies), and after seeing him mobbed by fans at the Malaysia Kitchen Night Market the following night I truly understood just what a special lunch we had.

I'm glad I went on an empty stomach. Chef Rajah of Kayu Manis certainly put on a feast for us, with Chef Wan explaining each dish as it arrived. 

Chicken & beef satay skewers were first up, served with peanut sauce, cucumber and bite-sized pieces of compressed rice. These were fantastic, well-marinated and full of flavour. Chef Wan explained a good satay sauce will coat the meat when you dip into it, rather than run off, and gave his seal of approval for this sauce: not too runny, not too thick, a lovely spicy peanutty flavour. 

Next up were the fattest spring rolls I've seen. Okay, so you may be thinking spring rolls aren't that exciting. But these were delicious: the wrapper fried to a perfect crisp, the filling a lovely combination of flavours and textures. 

The mussels in coconut curry that arrived next were incredible. When they arrived, Chef Wan started out by saying how he preferred the smaller French mussels over New Zealand green-lipped ones, which he said were tougher in texture. And then he tried one, and changed his mind: "these are fresh", he said, which were far different to the pre-packed ones he said he'd had in the past.

Chef Wan explained this type of curry is more often prepared with freshwater fish in Malaysia, and is made with turmeric (which explains the vibrant, yellow-green colour) and coconut milk. The sauce was creamy, coconutty, with a hint of spice, and we didn't let it go to waste.

Not long after we polished off the mussels we were served cucur udang, Malaysian prawn fritters. They were incredible: simultaneously light and substantial, crisp and fluffy, the batter well-seasoned and the prawns juicy and tender. According to Chef Wan, these fritters are made using all sorts of ingredients, including sweet versions (made with banana or coconut - I must try this!!) and are a popular snack or breakfast food for kids to eat before school. The sweet chilli sauce they arrived with was good, but we followed Chef Wan's lead and dipped them in the leftover coconut curry sauce from the mussels - wouldn't want it to go to waste!

We all got up to watch Chef Rajah from Kayu Manis make the roti: of the swarm of Malaysian restaurants all over Wellington, Kayu Manis is one of a handful of places that makes their roti fresh. Having spent time in Singapore and Malaysia, where fresh roti is everywhere, I certainly appreciate this - and even if you haven't been to either place, you can definitely taste the difference. 

We all got up to take photos, and Chef Wan got right amongst the action. I think we were all impressed by Chef Rajah's expert roti-flipping skills. 

And the finished product: fresh, hot, fluffy, chewy roti: nothing at all like the rubbery pre-made ones you mostly get around these parts. 

Along with the roti and plenty of rice, we were served several main dishes. The first was fish sambal: pieces of fried fish coated in an invigorating tangy-hot sambal sauce. Chef Wan explained how sambal plays an important role in the Malaysian diet, typically eaten at least 2 to 3 times a week with all sorts of things like fish, chicken liver, eggs... As far as condiments go it's pretty versatile and one of my favourite kinds of chilli sauce.

The beef rendang was, I thought, spectacular: tender beef in a rich, dark coconutty sauce full of spices. As far as rendang goes, this was one of the drier ones I've had - many Malaysian restaurants in Wellington make it with much more sauce. Chef Wan said both wet and dry are authentic; the dry version is made to be easily transportable and keeps longer.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers was the lamb kuzi. Don't let its pale, bland-looking appearance fool you - it was packed with flavour. This dish originates from the southern part of the Malaysian state of Johor, where Arab traders left a culinary legacy in the form of the raisins and spices in this dish. There was quite a strong cardamom flavour, balanced out by the sweetness of the raisins and other spices and the meatiness of the lamb. According to Chef Wan, this dish is often also made with duck and gets a lot of its flavour not only from the spices but also caramelised shallot. Beautiful.

photo supplied by PEAD PR who are the lovely folks behind Malaysia Kitchen NZ

Aside from the wealth of information Chef Wan shared about Malaysian food, we also talked about everything from Facebook (Chef Wan's "fan club" is here, with frequent, candid updates) to cheesecake (Chef Wan spent several years in the States and apparently has even published a cheesecake cookbook). He was chatty and friendly and a walking encyclopaedia of Malaysian cuisine. I think Laura summed it up perfectly when she said it was "SO FUN and SO DELICIOUS" - five days later, I'm still on a cloud.

201 Cuba St
Te Aro
(04) 382 8627

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Milliemirepoix dined at Kayu Manis as a guest of the Malaysia Kitchen programme.

PS. You can read Rosa's version of events here, and look at Laura's photos here!

1 comment:

hungryandfrozen said...

If I could turn back time, if I could find a way...
I guess I'll just have to get back to Kayu Manis again, and soon. We were definitely very lucky!