What better way to talk about modern Malaysian food than by discussing it over lunch with traditional local food? Chef Raymond Tham of Beta KL and Skillet@163 takes us to one of his favourite restaurants for Chinese roasted meats, revealing what he loves about the rich flavours our cuisine has to offer and how his newest restaurant tries to reinterpret this.

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Raymond Tham

The head chef and co-owner of Beta KL and Skillet@163, Raymond Tham is a cook with a strong passion for the foods that he grew up eating. With experience as a chocolatier for cocoa manufactuer Barry Callebaut and a lecturer at KDU University College teaching culinary arts under his belt, Tham went into creating his own kitchen first at Skillet@163 and later taking a more local route with Beta KL.

He also has international experience, having cooked in restaurants in London and Bermuda before coming back to Kuala Lumpur. With Beta KL being one of the the latest restaurants to join the growing modern Malaysian cuisine movement, we take the opportunity to ask a practising chef of this growing trend just exactly what it takes to bring our local food to haute cuisine heights.

Taking us to one of his favourite restaurants in Subang Jaya for Cantonese style roasted meats called Roasted Chef House, this ambitious chef reveals all. Let's start with the obvious.

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What Is Modern Malaysian Food?

"Culture will change over time and so too does our taste preferences. Modern Malaysian food evolves the classic flavours we know and love to suit a more contemporary palate. It can be something lighter and come in unexpected forms, but still have the tastes we grew up enjoying. It can even take influences from other cultures, using modern cooking techniques to create a new type of Malaysian cuisine," says Tham.

Indeed, Tham's food at Beta KL reflects his sentiment, with dishes like inverted curry puffs and chicken cooked with bentong ginger playfully reinterpreting familiar flavours in new and exciting ways.

"Our dishes highlights the flavours from Malaysia's four regions – the north, central, south and the east, drawing inspiration from these places to create our food," he adds.

For the full review on Beta KL read the August issue of Malaysia Tatler.

 

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What Do You Love About Malaysian Cuisine?

"Malaysian cuisine has everything to me. Each culture has their own stories to tell and flavours to contribute, making Malaysian food very colourful thanks to our diverse background. We also have unique ingredients in our country that aren't so common elsewhere, which makes it special to me," says Tham.

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What Are Some Of Your Favourite Eats Besides Malaysian Food?

"I definitely love sushi. Many people might think that sushi isn't very special because it's just raw fish and rice, but the freshness and quality of the ingredients, as well as the skill needed to prepare sushi, plays an important role," explains Tham.

This jovial chef takes research trips to other countries every now and then to expand his culinary horizon, with his latest trip to Peru seeing him discover an interesting mix of Latin American fare infused with Japanese influences. 

"I tried many different types of ceviche during my time there and I ended with falling in love with one that was really sour and spicy".

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Why Do You Like Coming To This Place?

"I used to live in the area and came to this part of the neighbourhood for my hair cuts. This restaurant (Roasted Chef House) was just across the street from my barber and one day I decided to take a chance and eat here," reveals Tham. "Their roast duck, roast pork and char siew is also different from other places and the chef is very passionate about his work".

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What Are Your Guilty Pleasures?

"I actually love curry noodles with roast pork. I know that it's something very sinful but I have it at least once a week at the local kopitiam near my house," laughs Tham.

Due to his time spent in Europe, he is also a fan of cheeses, often eating them with nuts as his snack of choice.

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Where Did You Get Your Passion For Food?

"I got it from my mother and grandmother, they both love to cook. I can remember playing around my grandmother's vegetable garden when I was young, plucking cucumbers from her garden and learning how to appreciate the freshness of it," reminisces Tham.

"Many kids my age at that time might have chosen to play football or head to the playground but for me, the kitchen was my playground". 

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What Is Your Favourite Ice-Cream Flavour?

"I actually like cempedak ice-cream. Two years ago we made a cempedak parfait at Skillet@163 because I like the aroma of the fruit as well as the creamy texture it has. It was so popular that even foreigners still ask for it," says Tham.

Catch up with these other chefs that we've featured: James Won of Enfin | Darren Chin of DC Restaurant | Carrie Scully of Tiki Taka | Jeff Ramsey of Babe

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