Arriving in Malaysia in 1998, Nathalie Arbefeuille enjoyed cooking for her friends during her spare time and she soon was encouraged by her friends to either teach cooking or open a restaurant, igniting a small but growing flame.
About 16 months later, she moved to Bangkok and joined a cooking class. She started to get bored with her cooking classes not long after and decided to pick up the mantle of teacher instead.
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Not one to rest on her laurels, she decided to open a catering business. Being a self-taught chef, she would to return to France to learn the foundations of fine cooking from a friend who happened to be a 3-Michelin starred chef.
Upon her eventual return to Malaysia, she continued her two businesses and eventually evolved into its current form – Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio in Solaris Dutamas next to Publika.
Her studio is a dine-in restaurant that opens three days a week, a cooking school as well as a catering service provider all-in-one.
We chat with Chef Arbefeuille before sampling some of her delicious cooking:
How was French food perceived in Malaysia when you first came? What about now?
It has not changed that much unfortunately. People still perceive French food as one of the finest and that it is very romantic but also expensive. I’ve been trying to remove this perception by making my food more accessible to more Malaysians; we can cook beautiful French food for an affordable price.
Has your food evolved since being in Malaysia?
Yes, it is evolving because I have been doing a lot of catering and because I am facing regular clients that always want new things. Thus, I must be very creative. And this is what I like. The challenge comes when I get clients that tell me that they want food that "wows" and others who have asked me to create dishes that incorporate Malaysian foods but done in the French way.
How would you describe your food? What about your cooking style?
For me, the food has to be really tasty. Taste is very important but I will always work on the beauty of dish, because I believe that you eat first with your eye. I also like my food to be light as I don’t want my guests to feel heavy. It’s important to have enough food but it’s also important to leave not feeling stuffed.
What are some of the things you love about French food?
The flavours. There are rules in French cuisine, we like to highlight the flavours of a dish so we don’t utilise too many elements on a dish. Personally, I would focus on one flavour and would add some supporting flavours around it. The products that I would like to focus will always be in the centre of the dish.
How about Malaysian food?
I like the spices and the herbs and I love curry laksa. I have experimented a lot with laksa. There are some very interesting herbs that I like, like the ginger flower and I like to work with elements like these.
What is your work ethic like?
When we have a new creation, I make my team focus on this new dish. I show them how it's done, I give them the recipe in black and white and I tell them not to change one gram of the it. I cannot cook everyday by myself so I teach them how to do it and I check up on the tastes from time to time. I’m very hands-on and I spend a lot of time with my team.
When you’re creating a new menu or food, how do you approach this?
I try to think of what ingredient I would use first, always focusing on one ingredient per dish, and I work around it. I think about what I would do with that ingredient, how I would treat it and what different textures I can get out of it before I build by dish around this product.
Interested in finding out what Chef Arbefeuille's food taste like? Pick up a copy of our June 2017 issue for our review of her restaurant.