In this interview, Rachel Henry, General Manager and Food & Beverage Director of Jama KL, reveals what it was like to open in the middle of the pandemic and her growth and aspirations along the way.
What do you do?
I love food, and now I finally do food, which is great! I run Jama, a new restaurant in Solaris Mont Kiara. We’re trying to bring the languid pleasure of daytime feasting back! We were only open for four weeks before this last FMCO happened, so very much looking forward to actually getting to serve people again.
How did you get into the industry?
Well, I’d have to thank an ex-boyfriend for that. He was a restaurateur, had the same love for food that I did and helped me see that same ability in myself. I majored in identity studies and sociology at university, so this is very different from where I thought my life was headed. But mostly, I have to thank Super Secret Social – a cool supper club I helped start with Jonathan and Nicolas, two best friends of mine – it challenged me, inspired me and ignited a passion for creating dishes I didn’t quite know I possessed.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
We really hit the ground running with Jama, opened with a small but hard-working team, got the place renovated and opened in two months, along with the menu design. It was a crazy first four weeks, many hours spent in service (which I hadn’t done before). It was exhausting, exhilarating and extremely rewarding.
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
The first time I really tasted the tomato. I was on holiday, Tarifa in Spain, and went to this completely unassuming coffee shop under my hostel. I was hungover and couldn’t understand a thing, so I just asked the waiter to give me whatever everybody else was having. He came back with a small glass of milk coffee and put a basket of charred bread and a jug of ruby red pulp in front of me. I poured that ruby red pulp on the bread, splashed on olive oil, salt and pepper, and boy was I in heaven. Good tomatoes, perfectly in season, sweet, savoury and full of flavour, have been precious to me ever since.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best – watching people eat! Creepy, I know, but seeing someone enjoying every mouthful brings me so much joy.
The worst – spreadsheets. Menu costing is a tedious tedious affair.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
I once tried spicy white kimchi with champagne that absolutely blew my mind. So that’s very much top of the list of unexpectedly delicious combinations.
What’s one of the scariest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
The scariest thing is all the plastic waste – that’s something the industry here could work harder to change. Easier said than done, though. Eco packaging is limited and almost always doesn’t make economic sense.
The perfect day off would be…
Recently it’s been several episodes of Rick and Morty on a couch with my love. BUT! When I’m not doing that, a day spent at home by the pool with lots of wine, music, food and a few friends is a good time.
A day in the life of Rachel Henry is…
… doing all the things, some fun, some not so fun and mostly about learning to be a good delegator.
What does Rachel Henry for fun?
I have long-table affairs. There’s nothing better than feasting with the people you love.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Jama?
We give a damn, and when we are allowed to, we will throw amazing weekend brunch parties. So please come.
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective or the way you operate?
It’s made me realise the importance of being flexible and adaptable. It’s better to flow with change than to fight it. That being said, I’m also ready, as I’m sure everyone in F&B is for it to be over. At the end of the day, we’re a restaurant. We need people to survive.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a general manager as a profession?
It’s a tough job. People in this industry work very hard to give you experiences that bring joy. So be kind to them. Also, their feet often hurt.
What’s your view on the food and drink scene in KL?
It’s growing! There are so many more young cool people doing cool things than ever before. There is more variety and care for the products we consume. I’m excited to see what’s more to come.
How has the pandemic changed you as a person?
I’m more grateful in every way possible. Also, mental health is important!
How has the pandemic changed you as a chef?
Time is a precious commodity, and just like that, we suddenly had so much more of it. So for me, that means more time to experiment, be creative and challenge myself. It’s a wonderful gift to be given.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
It’s for me to know and you to find out! (Otherwise, a cheeky way of saying – still undefined, as are the times).