Cover Kayu Puti at The St Regis Langkawi

In 2020, Chef Mandy Goh was finally able to celebrate Chinese New Year with her loved ones in Penang after 13 long years of powering through the public holidays. Her hard work has not gone unnoticed, however. Marriott Hotels appointed the tricenarian as The St Regis Langkawi's first local female head

A Penangite In Casino Capital

While political upheavals and health scares have cast a pall over the Las Vegas of the East, Macao's dining scene was absolutely heaving during Mandy Goh's time there (2014-2018). The illustrious David King, culinary director of The St Regis Macao and Sheraton Grand Macao, entrusted Goh with overseeing the food and beverage costs and operations. Note that the latter is the Marriott Group’s largest hotel worldwide (with a whopping number of 4,001 rooms)—not bad for a young chef from Prai, Penang.

Will she be slipping flavours from her hometown into The St Regis Langkawi's spread? "I’ve tweaked Gaetan Biesuz’s Asam Pedas Risotto—it isn’t a Penang speciality per se, but reminds me of the island’s love of sweet and sour flavours—by adding bacalao fritters," answered Goh. "But my belief is that Penang flavours shine best in a street food setting."

The Gracious Student

"My first ever mentor was Marcel Kofler at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur," mused Goh. "A Swiss national who has dedicated a lifetime to working for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group."

I still remember that time my mentor caught me in the midst of making a soufflé—using a KitchenAid. What a scolding I got!

"'Do you want to ascend to the top?' he asked. 'Then perfect the basics beforehand instead of using machines or shortcuts. Picture a pyramid structure with a wide base—only then are you guaranteed stability.'"

It was Kofler who trained Goh for the Bocuse D’Or Asia (the first time that all-female team took home the gold) in addition to installing Goh, then in her early 20s, at the Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou in 2014.

"We’ve never lost touch. He’s always been there. Even my whole family has met him, my 'surrogate father'."

Petite Principal

A smile crept across our lips while watching Goh and chef de cuisine Shahfi Yusoff working the line. She and her second-in-command couldn't be more different in stature, and it's even more obvious when they're side by side. The elfin head chef is candid about the initial self-doubt she felt when the position was paraded before her.

"I am small potatoes next to some chefs. For this I am thankful not just to The St Regis, but also to Marriott International. Besides the fact that Langkawi is close to my family in Penang, I accepted the role because Marriott showed a willingness to oversee my growth and training.

At the end of the day, I believe that most people will grow when given the opportunity. Just look at my team: they are capable of serving nine courses for 40 covers—that’s more than 300 courses executed by just 15 chefs!"

My staff haven’t had the same opportunities as I have had abroad, which isn’t their fault, but that’s why I’m here—to assist and to guide them.


Where Sky Meets Sea

How best to summarise our first encounter with Chef Goh's cooking at Kayuputi, the famous floating restaurant at The St Regis Langkawi? 

First off, the new head chef has visibly diminished her predecessor's derivatives of Malaysian classics. Compared to Gaetan Biesuz, who gained recognition for his Asam Pedas Black Cod and Rendang Wagyu (you get the gist), the French lilt in Goh's dishes is more pronounced. Any young creative who has just flown from the nest would understandably keep her classical training within reach. She admits it herself: "I'm still using French techniques, especially for my saucing, but the menu is more straight-forward without any fancy-sounding French terms—I want to make it understandable to all diners."

Guests hoping to experience more Langkawi-sourced produce will be slightly deflated, but what's available is skilfully strung together with imported ingredients. Take, for instance, the buffalo milk skin in the A4 Kagoshima Wagyu course, or the Black Bee honey Goh likes using in her glazes.

The first night of our stay saw an outpouring of dishes—10 in total, including an amuse-bouche, palate cleanser and mignardises—paired with wines from the estimable house of Edmond de Rothschild.

For this food writer, fatigue usually settles in around the fifth course, but Goh's well-balanced flavours kept me glued to my seat until the very end (aka Textures of Rhubarb).

"I love acid," gushed Goh, alluding to the flavour component and not the music genre. "When it comes to lengthy degustations, you need to reset your palate several times, hence the celery and rose apple in the Boston lobster bisque, or the fruitiness of the final dessert. Imagine if I served you a rich chocolate gateaux after 9 courses—I think you'd probably hate me!" While the mere idea of loathing the lovable chef makes us laugh, we know exactly what she means: the danger of overkill often looms close in degustations.

I always try to put myself in my guests' shoes.
Chef Mandy Goh