A quick Q&A with this seasoned chef who has brought his skills from a bustling city to an idyllic holiday island
Chef Chai Chun Boon first made waves with Copper, a modern European restaurant, in Kuala Lumpur. Copper may have closed but he remains an influential figure in the local culinary scene. In April, he joined The Datai Langkawi as its senior chef de cuisine at The Dining Room.
Sarawak-born Chai gained his culinary experience at some of the most renowned restaurants in the world, including the 2-Michelin ABaC restaurant in Barcelona, the 3-Michelin Oud Sluis in the Netherlands, and the 3-Michelin Santi in Singapore.
At The Datai Langkawi, Chai has been making full use of the flourishing local produce, creating beautiful dishes, and elevating The Dining Room's menu.
Who has been the biggest influence on you professionally?
Definitely my family. My dad for introducing me and my siblings to the best local fare. When we became older with more matured palates, he took us to the best dining any city could offer whenever we travelled.
My late grandma for being able to cook up a storm for three generations of family single-handedly and for always being generous with her flavours and ingredients.
My mom for her zeal, love, dedication and determination to showing her boundless love through home-cooked nourishing dishes for the family.
And my wife for being the muse of a lot of my best dishes in the last seven years.
What is the book that you think every chef should read?
Any books on leadership and basic cooking fundamentals. Master those and you will master most kitchens, and even excel as a chef entrepreneur.
Who is the chef you’d most like to cook with, dead or alive?
Rene Redzepi, for sure. He is one of the best and most original cooks on the planet, who built a restaurant that changed the culinary landscape, not to mention the negative impression of Scandinavian cuisine. His thought processes as a leading culinary figure are also worth mentioning and applauding, for from his kitchen came many great cooks who are also redefining the way we cook and interpret food in this modern world.
What and where is the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?
Oud Sluis in Zeeland, the Netherlands. It is now permanently closed but held all three of the most prestigious accolades: 3 Michelin stars, a spot on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list and a 20/20 score in the Gault et Millau Guide for multiple years. It had the best degustation dining to date, coupled with exemplary service. This place was truly world class. Even after being closed for almost a decade now, nowhere else has come close to it for me.
What is your favourite food city/foodie travel destination?
What is one ingredient you can’t live without?
It’s your last meal—what’s on the menu?
My mom’s salted vegetable soup with chicken rice, mee kolok with succulent dumplings, and laksa Sarawak with wild-caught tiger prawns. For dessert, it would have to be my wife’s famous scones with honey and kaymak (Turkish clotted cream).