Kai Quan Mui
In this interview, Kai Quan Mui, chef at ChoCha Foodstore, tells of some fun events and collaborations coming up at the restaurant and as well as his journey in the food profession.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I had my first job when I was 15 as a waiter in a neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. I enjoyed watching the chef do the cooking. Since then, I spent most of my weekends cooking for my family. Once I graduated from my secondary school, I went for a culinary course for two years before starting my professional career.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
Back in the days working in Singapore, we had a local young man just join us in the team after freshly graduating from culinary school. He was assigned to do the basic jobs like picking herbs, chopping garlic, cleaning chicken bones just like everyone else does. At one point, he felt himself being mistreated, and the next day his mum showed up just like the high school days and questioned us if we had bullied his son.
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
Like many Malaysians, I grew up eating roti canai for breakfast, chicken rice for lunch, and nasi padang for dinner. These will never leave my memory.
My favourite place to travel to eat is Japan. From a neighbourhood sushi place, to a ramen restaurant, to a tiny udon place where you stand to slurp a bowl of noodles to a formal kaiseki restaurant, each category is always inspiring.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part would be meeting up different people day in and out. We meet colleagues who share the same passion, our suppliers who make sure our produce is in the best condition, and our guests who appreciate every single effort done by us.
The worst part would be there is always a higher chance to put ourselves into unhealthy lifestyles such as eating and drinking at irregular timing of the day. It could be 4 pm for lunch, and 1 am for late-night supper.
What are some of your favourite food and beverage pairings?
Dim sum or bak ku teh with Chinese tea.
Bbq pork and beer.
Cheese and natural wines
What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
It was one of the dinner services when I was working in London. The chef looked everywhere for a truffle that just came in worth a few thousand pounds but couldn’t find it. After a while, we had concluded the only possible place it could be was in the garbage bags. We went to the garbage area at 1 am, took out dozens of garbage bags, dug in every single one, went through searching for an hour and finally we found it.
The perfect day off would be…
.. in nature, whether in a forest or beach, chilling out to rest the mind and recharge.
A day in the life of a chef Kai Quan Mui is…
Unexpecting and challenging as you will never know what are the challenges coming throughout the day. We always need to be leading in this game and always planning for the next and to be prepared.
What do you do for fun?
Hiking, camping, chilling out at the beach, cooking for friends and family.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about ChoCha Foodstore?
ChoCha Foodstore works closely with our local farmers, producers, fisherman and artisans. We support the local community and help to lift up the standard of the food chain. We always believe that alone we can do so little but together we can do so much.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a chef bartender as a profession?
Working in the hospitality industry has never been an easy job. It takes passion, dedication and effort. Humans make mistakes, and I think it is always important to learn how to be kind to people and forgiving, and certainly, people will be even more appreciated and thus moving on.
What’s your view on the food and beverage scene in KL?
I think the restaurant and bar scene in KL is getting better. More people are looking up for good experiences in restaurants and bars. The standard is getting higher and more exciting places are opening up. At the same time, the local food scene is equally exciting, especially in this multiracial society. For me, they are the foundation of our culinary scene, the one closest to our daily life. They deserve attention from the people.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
Apart from continually improving the menu by searching for seasonal ingredients, adjusting recipes and finding new cooking techniques, we are also planning collaboration events with our industry friends. We hope to work with chefs, sommeliers, farmers and producers in wine dinners, cross-over cooking with other chefs, and events emphasizing certain ingredients.