Dewakan Shakes Up Its Overall Dining Experience With Support From Sub-Zero And Wolf
Sporting a 1950s pixie cut popularised by Audrey Hepburn, the lovely Karen Gonzago is quite beyond herself. Perfectly circular 'coins' of rice bread disappear down her gullet as she gushes with pleasure. While hunger is indefinitely the best sauce, Sub-Zero and Wolf's director of marketing and communications will prove to be Dewakan's most ardent cheerleader past the initial bread basket and well into dessert.
"Everything is so interesting," says the Singaporean, thinking out loud. "But it's still familiar on a deeper level." Given Malaysia and Singapore's shared eating culture, it isn't surprising that tonight's spread is relatable to our collective.
First of all, there's the new format: if you had the privilege of dining at the old Dewakan in Shah Alam, you may recall how some 20 dishes were brought out one by one. Now, however, anywhere between three to six bites are served all at once.
"Many restaurants and chefs feel compelled to follow the usual fine dining format, but it doesn't mirror the Malaysian way," explains Darren Teoh, chef-patron of Dewakan.
Whether you have banana leaf rice or chap fun, variety is something Malaysians greatly look forward to.
In the first wave of dishes, we are bombarded by bite-sized snacks: Black Banana Sambal; Sardines cured in Kuaci Miso; Dried Root Vegetables; Salted Mackeral & Mushroom; and Smoked Tapai Ubi. The love child of charcoal and casava, the last of these was steeped in smoked oil and blowtorched under blue flames.
Also new to Dewakan are Sub-Zero and Wolf's sustainable stainless steel appliances, which bear noble provenance: founder Westye Bakke began tinkering with refrigeration in the 1930s to extend the efficacy of his diabetic son's insulin. Little did Bakke imagine that his legacy would assist chefs such as Teoh in preserving palate cleansers ("The Sour Ice should be called Very, Very Sour Ice' instead," laughs Yam Churn Meng, director of Sub-Zero & Wolf SEA, uproariously) or fresh seafood such as the squid paired with Local Herb Bouquet & Jamu.
"It's quite simple once you get the hang of it," shrugs chef de partie Noel Smith. "We cut the squid into tubes first before placing a sheet of plastic in between so we don't cut through to the other side. Then we start scoring (longitudinal) lines along the tube. Next, we maneuver it so that the two openings of the tube curl inward and meet at the centre—much like a Chinese lantern. They get oiled with petai skin oil and steamed for two minutes."
Soybeans, the pride of Southeast Asia, boast remarkable versatility, but once turned into quivering tofu (unless fermented), aren't known for durability.
Which brings us once again to Sub-Zero's usefulness. The undulating 'corals' or 'chrysanthemums' in Dewakan's now famous Tofu & Crab Broth owe their cheerful buoyancy to pinpoint climate control. "We store our soft tofu between 2 and 10°C at all times to lengthen its shelf life and maintain its texture," says sous chef Wayne Wong, whose task is to score the tofu every single day.
A boon for Sub-Zero's fanbase, the company's acquisition of Wolf Cooking in 2000 has bolstered convenience in all areas of cooking. The aforementioned tofu is suspended in crab rasam broth that's heated using the Wolf 36" Induction Cooktop. "It takes but a short few seconds to boil," shares Wong.
My glass is being filled by assistant restaurant manager Leanne Lim for the umpteenth time—not that I'm complaining. Dripping the last dregs of the bottle into my glass, she then retreats to the designer wine storage sponsored by Sub-Zero. Peeking over one shoulder, I see her extract a bottle that's not wine, but shochu. The extension rack slides back in silently, the chiller's LED lights blink into darkness, and the wines return to their slumber, dreaming of the day they will fulfill their purpose, which is to deliver delight—and perhaps drunkenness.
Dessert is upon us: a Smoked Banana & Mulberry creation that we pair with Lim's choice of shochu. The rhythmic tapping of metal spoons against chocolate carapaces resounds through the room, causing a lull in conversation. It is several long seconds before the first successful crack breaks the spell, causing everyone to come to and laugh. "Must be the Sub-Zero," jokes someone, an allusion to Sub-Zero and Wolf's quality that pleases the company massively.