Interview with Chef Robert Johnston, Charcoal, Saujana Resort Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

What do you do and how did you get into the industry? 
I’m Chef de Cuisine at Charcoal restaurant at The Saujana Hotel Kuala Lumpur. I first got into the industry in my home town of Newcastle, Australia when I was 15 years old washing dishes. Since then I’ve worked my way through the ranks and around the world!
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
When I worked on P&O Cruise Ships we travelled the whole world. Across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, through the Panama Canal and all the way up to Iceland. It was AMAZING. But the most interesting part of it was in big seas with HUGE waves that would make the entire 69,000 ton ship shudder and rattle when they crashed into it. And when you were trying to plate up food the plate would slide down the bench several feet and then back with each roll the ship did! It was very amusing and frustrating at the same time!
What’s the best/ worst part of your job? 
The best part is being able to take my skills anywhere in the world to see and live in new places. The worst part is the working hours.
What’s your favourite meal/ drink? 
Every time my wife and I go away on holidays we always order at least one pina colada. It’s kind of our “thing”. My favourite meal would have to be a steak on the barbie, pasta salad and fresh crusty bread at home with a few friends and family.
Tell us a story about one of the dishes you prepare.
I’d say the meats we cook at Charcoal are the best because due to the high heat on the charcoal and wood grills we sweat and dehydrate like nothing else but it’s worth it because of the amazing flavour of the meats after the whole process (and that’s not caused by the sweat either). It takes time and patience to cook a thick juicy steak like that and that makes it even tastier!
What’s one of the wildest/ craziest/ scariest/ funniest/ most outrageous (choose an adjective or pick your own) things you’ve seen behind the scenes? 
WOW! I’ve seen all of those things happen at one time. Working in Scotland there were some pretty crazy chefs. It’s probably way to graphic and inappropriate to put on paper but lets just say there would be a lot of people arrested if the authorities were ever present on these many multiple occasions. *wink wink
The perfect day off would be… 
Watch the sun rise (with out being tired) while sipping an espresso with my wife. Then go out for brunch at a cafe followed by a night out on the town including dinner, cocktails and music. Followed by another day OFF to recover!
A day in the life of a chef is… 
Long, tiring and busy. But challenging and worth it.
What do you do for fun? 
Relax at home, eat out in nice restaurants, travel and I love to play golf!
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Charcoal?
Quality takes time. Please don’t rush us to cook your food quicker because it will affect quality which will make you upset. Be patient and all will be fine.
How do you select your ingredients and why?
I select based on quality first as there is no substitute, however that is followed by price/value. We have to be reasonable when running a business. If it cost us $1000 to buy then we have to include that cost in the selling price. It all affects the guest at the end of the day.
What’s your view on the Kuala Lumpur restaurant/ bar scene? 
I think KL is quite a way to go in terms of international standard restaurants when compared with other major cities such as Singapore or Hong Kong or Dubai. However, when you pick the right place it can be fantastic with great atmosphere and service which are ingredients for a wonderful experience.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months? 
October we had MIGF so following that through November we are running a food and wine promotion in Charcoal which is in the final planning stages and still a secret. In December we have some wonderful Christmas eve/day menus, as well as exciting NYE and NYD menus too. Hopefully after that I will be able to take some time off to relax and enjoy life!


  1. Great interview! I really like his shirt and he has a nice smile and professional look. I never would have thought that he wouldn't like the hours, but then again, I have never been a chef.

  2. I would agree with Linda. Nice smile.

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