Claire Matheson, contributing writer at The Yum List, shares a little about her background, food and travel preferences and gives some insight into her role.
What’s your role at The Yum List?
I am one of the contributing writers. I tend to do longer-form features for experiences requiring more time and research.
When you’re not Yum Listing …
I’m a senior English literature teacher, so I’m usually nose-deep in a book or writing something.
What languages do you speak? What countries have you lived in? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the eternal sunshine of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. I had one of those childhoods where we were always outside: at the beach, hiking, camping, and riding bikes around the neighbourhood until the streetlights came on.
My husband Simon and I moved to Malaysia when our kids were very little. They have grown up travelling across three continents. We had to take them back to visit Australia recently because we realised they’d never seen kangaroos. London was also home for a time, but we all grew homesick for Malaysia, so we moved back.
Despite all this, I still don’t speak much Bahasa. It’s embarrassing, I know. I do speak a little French and Italian, but I am only fluent in English. I should change that.
What is your food and beverage preferences/ preferred style of dining?
I prefer places that specialise in one thing. Where they focus and hone their innovation, bringing their own personal flair and voice to what they do. Smaller seatings, with smaller menus, backed up with authenticity – a clear identity, if you will. With all things in life, do less, do it well.
Many years back, CK Kho introduced me to gin tasting, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I’m amazed by some of the gins coming out of Australia at the moment. Beachtree from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has an Organic Koala Gin that features lemon myrtle. It’s ridiculously good. KL gin importers, pay attention!
Otherwise, I love dry, minerally whites and complex reds, as well as a good Negroni.
What is comfort food for you?
Anything made in a Dutch oven. Honestly, anything started with onions, garlic, butter, and a wine reduction. Add in lots of herbs, maybe some seafood, and these are my favourite foundation ingredients for anything that ends with a happy food dance.
What style of traveller are you?
I feel like I have a split personality as a traveller. I love a cheap and cheerful hostel, especially if it has a private family room. Or booking an apartment a little away from the bustle, getting lost in the streets, and spontaneously seeking out the best local neighbourhood highlights. We tend to plan as little as possible and go with the flow.
The other side of my travel personality appreciates all the finer details of an opulent five-star hotel stay. Especially one with a good view. I will never not get giddily excited over a quality hotel bathrobe, lux toiletries, or a coffee machine in the room. Yes, please!
What’s in Claire Matheson’s fridge?
Depends on the day of the week. It could be stacked full of fresh fruit and veggies, or it could be down to just bare condiments. We like to cook, and we alternate between going to a large supermarket or shopping at our local pasar pagi to buy locally-grown produce.
What do you like to cook?
On weekends, when we have time, we love to do a roast with lots of veggies. I quite like experimenting with new ingredients I haven’t used before. I married a brilliant cook, and we both love French food, so a rich boeuf Bourguignon is one of my favourite dishes to make at home.
What do you look for in a menu?
Fresh, high quality, locally sourced, sustainable produce. I prefer to eat dishes that are a little more plant-based and healthy these days. I also love to taste endemic Malaysian ingredients. Bonus points for a well-paired wine.
What does Claire Matheson do for fun?
Anything on, in, or around water. Simon and I have what we feel is an endearing addiction to playing board games with mates, preferably with some good music. Generally, hanging out with my family and my dog. They’re pretty cool. I like them.
Something people might not know about you:
I worked as a farm hard on a friend’s cattle property for a couple of years, mustering polled Herefords on horseback. You’d be surprised how often basic animal husbandry skills come in handy. It has made me an intolerable grass-fed steak snob – it’s a better life for the animal and it tastes brighter.
Favourite place to travel?
Whichever country I’ve travelled to most recently. I fall in love with new cultures quickly.
Standout travel story?
There was that time I nearly died in The Netherlands. That was an adventure! If you’re going to get horrifically sick anywhere, do it there – their ICUs are amazing. I had a whole team working to keep me alive. It was mad.
Watching my kids see snow for the first time in Nagano is my favourite travel memory. Fresh powder is a guaranteed way to bring out everyone’s inner child. We also developed a little addiction to going to onsens under the stars, surrounded by snow. Also, did we book a 12-hour layover in Changi airport just to enjoy the airport? Yes, we did. Was it a ridiculously fun day that we still talk about? Yes. Ten out of ten recommend it.
Something readers might not know about The Yum List:
From the outside looking in, our coverage will appear very convivial, and we do have a lot of fun. Underneath, however, there is a great deal of work. We take detailed notes, work interviews into every conversation, let the camera eat first, and spend a great deal of time researching. Behind every photograph, paragraph, or social media reel, is a great deal of editing and attention. We try to be as thoughtful as possible and reveal the people and their stories behind each place.
Something unexpected you discovered with The Yum List:
I love seeing how much Malaysians take pride in sharing each other’s achievements and appreciating quality and inventiveness. The chef and bartending communities here are tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone else. There’s a real sense of celebration and shared triumph when someone achieves an award. I don’t think that happens as much elsewhere, or in most other industries.
Most memorable Yum List experience:
I had the chance to travel to Kota Kinabalu and work with Shangri-La. Their resorts over in Sabah are extraordinary. Their grounds are lush and expansive, with plenty of family-friendly pools and games. The food is fantastic, and there are plenty of opportunities to interact with the local ecosystems, be it reefs or rainforests.
On that same trip, I got to spend the day with some of my favourite Malaysian bartenders, Rizal ‘Junior’ Utto and Azrin ‘Boy’ Masrie. Junior’s brother drove us all up to the base of Mt Kinabalu to dine at their restaurant, Kloud. We spent the evening at their bar, Flips in KK. Both places do fabulous comfort food, and the cocktails are *chef’s kiss*. It was an incredible trip.
A restaurant/bar worth mentioning because:
There’s such a huge array of talent here in Malaysia. I believe South East Asia’s food and drink scenes far outstrip their Western counterparts.
Chef Lee Zhe Xi and the team at Eat And Cook are my standout winner. Their level of artistry is breathtaking. When you dine with them, it’s so intimate, so personal. They take omakase to an entirely different level.
Likewise, young gun Chef Raphael Lee over at Oitom in Kota Kinabalu is heading up a team of really quite intrepid food pioneers. They are doing some spectacular things, all while highlighting local, sustainably sourced ingredients.
In terms of drinks, Coley and Pahit are still my absolute favourite watering holes. Everything they do is simply magic in a glass. I also have a particular soft spot for PS150, one of the first pieces I ever wrote for The Yum List back in early 2016. I love that they are still going strong and keep honouring the heritage of the Jalan Petaling area.
Claire Matheson’s Pet travel peeves:
Not having time to relax at the airport. I’m such a ‘travel dad’ – one of those people who likes to be there three hours early. I’ve missed a flight before and ended up covered in my child’s vomit, sobbing hysterically at the check-in counter, begging them to let me board. Not my finest moment!
I much prefer to travel without the stress, start the holiday early, grab a drink, crack the spine on a new book, and appreciate the anticipation of what’s to come.
What is Claire Matheson listening to/ reading/ watching at the moment?
That’s a dangerous question to ask an English teacher! Do you have an hour? I’m currently doubling up on Pedro Pascal with The Last of Us and the new season of The Mandalorian. Is there anyone that doesn’t love him? I am listening to the Just the Gist Podcast, the best-ever dinner party conversation prep! And I’ve just finished reading Babel by RF Kuang. I am tossing up whether to read Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon next, start some V.E. Schwab, or just cheekily reread some Sarah J Maas. If you know, you know.
One of Claire Matheson’s favourite books/ movies/ music of all time?
My best friend just gave me a hardback, illustrated copy of The Princess Bride by William Goldman. She knows me well. If you’re an elder-millennial who grew up with the film, the book is even better! It has everything – sword fighting, Rodents of Unusual Size, inconceivable villains, true love, and the most hilarious quotable phrases of all time. I’m reading it to my kids, and when we call it a night, there are plenty of dramatic protests and cries of ‘Just one more page!’. It’s a book that will make anyone fall in love with reading.