Kevin Yong, pastry chef of W Kuala Lumpur, shares some of the challenges encountered when learning to be a chef and a few stories from behind the scenes.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
Hello! I am Kevin Yong, the Pastry Chef of W Kuala Lumpur. I got in the industry because of my mother. I’m a big fan of my mum’s creations during Chinese New Year and special family gatherings. I remember making traditional steamed mai lai ko (steamed brown sugar cake), kuih loyang (honeycomb cookies) or Chinese steamed egg sponge cake just to name of few. My childhood memories include helping my mum to whisk up eggs, butter or roast peanuts for Chinese New Year peanut cookies. Everyone seemed to enjoy those delicacies that symbolise happiness and joy. I love bringing happiness, joy and positive vibes to the people around me. So, after graduating from high school, I pursued a career in one of the vocational institutes to learn the basics of the profession and did an internship in a 4-star hotel. That is how my journey as a pastry chef began.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
That would be definitely the story when I worked for the very first time in a real kitchen during my internship. My chef asked me to do prepare choux pastry for 1,500 pax. I accidentally added 100gm instead of 10gm of salt into the mixture. After realizing that the choux was so salty I asked my chef whether we were preparing a dessert or a savoury item. Obviously, I had to make the choux one more time.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part is eating and tasting. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about putting on weight… but who would say no to good food?
What’s your favourite pastry?
My favourite pastry is always the one with some local touch or local flavour profile. I like pandan layer cake which uses screwpine leaf to make the sponge and layer with pandan custard kaya made with green bean flour, coconut milk and, of course, pandan leaf. It’s my all-time Malaysian favourite.
What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
I think back to 10 years ago, during the fasting month. There were not many hotels and restaurants that offered Ramadhan buffet, so you can imagine how busy it was at the hotel I was working in at that time. We had to serve 1 000 pax daily at our coffee house, so our traditional Malay kuih was not enough to cater to the crowd. We had to create additional desserts to fill up the buffet for the 1 000 guests. It was a crazy month, but it taught me so much in terms of managing the pastry kitchen and anticipating last minute requests.
The perfect day off would be…
To detox, retox and repeat.
Detox – I usually hit the gym and I like to do indoor cycling and sweat it out in a cycling studio – something I can’t do in a cold pastry kitchen.
Retox – I enjoy some good food with friends. Occasionally I’d like to live it up and party as well.
A day in the life of a chef is…
I begin my day at 5.30 am, where I hit the gym first before work. That way, I get to avoid traffic in the city centre. My workday begins by checking on breakfast service, then catching up with emails and some administrative work.
And then, showtime begins. I get to share my passion with my team. Everyone has their respective tasks to complete in hotel operations but we get to be creative at the same time when developing recipes with them. We have plenty of room to be creative as we need to serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-room dining, catering and even the afternoon tea creation comes from our team. I love the vibrant spirit of the team and how creative they can be!
What do you do for fun?
I like to travel, mostly solo. I like spending time wandering at a local coffee shop taking some nice pictures, people watching and observing what the locals do.
The best way to get to know the locals is to go to their local markets to try their food and source for ingredients to bring home!
What’s something you’d like guests to know about the pastries and dessert at W Kuala Lumpur?
Personally, I love the local Malaysian flavour when it comes to desserts. I am also an advocate for locally sourced ingredients. In the hotel, we use a lot of locally sourced ingredients such as local fig, Tualang honey, Cameron Highlands strawberries, local Pahang chocolate and not forgetting the locally made cheese for savoury items such as quiche or pie in support of the local farm community, which we work very closely with. Using those ingredients, my team and I inject some innovation and creativity into the menu. We transform traditional bubur cha cha to Bubur Whop Whop which is a semi-frozen, deconstructed dessert. Rojak Malaysia is a deconstructed table dessert, made for sharing. It incorporates different elements and textures in each bite. We also incorporate the famous Malaysian beverage – Michael Jackson (soymilk mixed with cincau) into a pannacotta, complete with teh tarik ice-cream. We also make our sweets and bonbons with local flavours such as kaya custard and chilli chocolate.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Just a simple one. I’m not fussy at all. Teh tarik with nasi lemak, Chinese yam cake with a cup of pu er tea or mango Lassi with banana leaf rice sums up my day-to-day meals.
What’s your view on the food scene in Kuala Lumpur?
Kuala Lumpur is a very dynamic city. Different cultures, race and religions are just like a kaleidoscope. The same goes for Malaysian cuisine. It can be mixed and matched to create innovative recipes and using local ingredients can give newborn flavours to dishes.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
Stay tuned on our afternoon tea offerings, which will change each quarter, as well as our upcoming Sunday brunch at Flock! More details to come.