Not satisfied to settle for subpar desserts, Sarah Tan and Kim Ngoh founded Minus 4 Degrees, which churns out the most velvety ice cream you will ever taste.

The Chinese like their desserts on the lighter side whereas the Malays and Indians enjoy an intense sugar rush; how do you find middle ground for our nation’s wide-ranging tastes?

Kim Ngoh: Our ice creams are generally less sweet, but we’ve noticed that different flavours cater to different demographics, so I think the emphasis is more on flavours than sweetness. And due to health awareness campaigns, most Malaysians do not mind the reduced sweetness.
Was your daughter's love for the kitchen inherited?

Kim Ngoh: Yes, from my mother–in-law, who was a very good cook. Even a simple dish like long beans with dried prawns and soy sauce could turn out so appetizing.
What were your sentiments when she expressed an in interest in the culinary arts?

Kim Ngoh: She’s always had a palate for good food. We could see her passion and her gift, so we weren’t surprised that she chose this line.

Where did you build your culinary chops, Sarah?

Sarah Tan: My first exposure to the industry was at a Japanese restaurant while waiting for approval to intern in Germany. Thereafter, I was at Cilantro for two years followed by a 1.5 month stage at Attica in Melbourne before joining Dewakan for two years. 

Three famed restaurants headed by three fantastic chefs. What was the most valuable lesson you learned from each mentor?

Sarah Tan: I have deep respect for chef Takashi Kimura from Cilantro as he taught me a lot about ingredients, seasonality, flavour and technique. Cilantro is where I honed my basics. 

Chef Azlal Ariffin (we call him Steve) was the chef de cuisine at Cilantro. He is one of the best cooks I know, and I want to be able to cook like him. I would pay attention to how he cooked pasta for instance, and strive to achieve his standards.

I harbour both fear and respect for chef Darren Teoh of Dewakan, mainly because he's no-nonsense and will tell you as it is. He's not afraid to push the envelope. It is at Dewakan where I learned about Malaysian produce and embraced being Malaysian. Darren, who was also my lecturer at college, has been extremely supportive of Minus 4 Degrees.
The last time I looked at a label from a large-scale ice cream manufacture, I spotted some ingredients that didn’t look too gut-friendly. Comments?

Sarah Tan: Discerning consumers are paying more attention to nutritional content these days. I believe it is a collective effort from those who are in the industry and social influencers to help educate the market on what goes into their stomachs. I am not opposed to stabilisers; an appropriate amount can slow down melting and even aid texture. I do not, however, use any, the reason being that they mute flavours. We advise customers to finish their cartons within a month to enjoy optimum freshness.
Your ice cream tastes so ‘alive.’ I put it down to the use of natural ingredients including thyme, black pepper, banana and durian. Is it challenging to achieve consistency in your ice creams, given that you’re using fresh ingredients as opposed to imitation flavouring?

Sarah Tan: Definitely. With durian, for example, flavours vary from one season to the next, and from one orchard to another. Sweetness and aroma is also affected by the weather. Malaysians like intense flavours that come on strong, which is what artificial flavourings do, whereas natural flavours blossom on the palate slowly and subtly.

Packaging and presentation, both of which can say a lot about a brand, is your jurisdiction, Kim. What does Minus 4 Degrees’s appearance say about the brand?

Kim Ngoh: We are a homemade ice cream producer, so our primary focus is giving our clients the best quality ice cream possible with no compromise. Packaging and presentation are secondary. We could come up with very ‘cangih’ branding, but that would increase the cost of the ice cream unnecessarily.
What do most consumers take for granted?

Kim Ngoh: Us choosing the best ingredients possible. Once, we threw away a batch of durian that didn’t meet our requirements. Our Gula Melaka is sourced directly from Malacca. To some consumers, ice cream might just be ice cream. Why should they pay a higher price for artisan ice cream over commercial ice cream? To that I say: because we use all-natural ingredients sans artificial colouring or flavouring! We also use one of the highest quality creams available in the Malaysian market.
I imagine a love of good food runs in your family. What meals do you crave most when all that ice cream starts to get a bit ‘jelak’?

Sarah Tan: A bowl of hot soup such as herbal chicken soup or bak kut teh.

Kim Ngoh: Japanese food.

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