The Yum List gets to know Leisa Tyler, founder of Weeds & More and learns a little about the business of food growing.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
We grow organic heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible flowers for restaurants and hotels in Malaysia and Singapore. I never intended to farm, and frankly, when we started, I had no idea how to. I fell into it after having a bet with a restauranteur friend from Singapore who didn’t think quality Euro veg and herbs would be able to grow in Malaysia. I love a good old fashioned bet.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
Over 80% of Singapore’s perishable vegetables get flown in on jet planes. I am all for vegetable rights, but don’t believe they need a plane ticket to get here.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
Worst: Getting up at 5 am for Kuala Lumpur packing days. Even worse still: Explaining the difference between a supermarket, where one can purchase vegetables on call, and a farm, where they usually need to be planted (then nurtured and petted and coaxed into growing over a few months). Best: The look on a chef’s face when they taste one of our heirloom tomatoes, or fennel flowers, or purple carrots. Even better still: The day Darren Chin told me he thought our veg were better than Alain Passard’s. Boom!
What’s your favourite product from Weeds & More?
Chervil, fresh coriander seeds, flat leaf parsley, baby Carentan leek, purple king beans- actually I am quite partial to most items. If we can’t beat the European importers for freshness and flavour, we just won’t grow it.
What’s one of the wildest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
I worked as a food event organiser for many years (still do occasionally), putting together forums, dinners, symposiums, workshops etc, and have lay witness to quite a few prima donna chef moments. Vegetables are tame compared to some chefs I know. The monsoons in Cameron Highlands are also pretty wild at times and the bane of all our lives.
The perfect day off would be…
A hike in the forest then a good book and a great glass of red.
A day in the life of an entrepreneur is…
Coffee, answer Whatsapp messages, read emails, more coffee, yoga, answer emails, make sure everything and everybody is happy and hard at work… If at the farm then coffee, harvest, pack, plant, nurture, eat Chinese food, talk through problems and solutions and repeat.
What do you do for fun?
We have a beach house on the wild south coast of Tasmania. It literally faces Antarctica. We built it ourselves. It’s off the grid so no mains electricity, only solar energy. It has a wood-fired cast iron stove and a brick pizza oven. We ferment, talk to the kookaburras, make bread, chase possums, slow roast and listen to the ocean.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Weeds & More?
We are a set of farms, not a supplier. It is highly likely we don’t have what you want immediately- but we can grow it. If you need it tomorrow, please go to a supermarket.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Can anything beat Champagne and icy cold raw plump oysters with lemon and black pepper on a hot day? Or rich ragout with plenty of Parmesan and an aged Barossa shiraz on a cold day?
What’s your view on the food scene in Penang?
Apparently starting to move and shake. There have been a few snazzy restaurants open recently- though truth be told the street food and local restaurants are a challenge for any chef to beat. Penang is the Asian food capital of the world, right?
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
We will be bringing on some new clients in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and from the lovely little island of Langkawi. We are also looking to bring on new farmers in Cameron Highlands, plus, a new venture: importing other high-quality farmer driven Malaysian food products into Singapore.