Chef Christian Recomio, Sitka Studio
Chef Christian Recomio is no stranger to the complex caveats of the culinary world. From establishing Moonfish Café in Aberdeen to honing his skills in the pristine kitchens of Noma in Copenhagen, he knows good food. So, how did a successful restaurateur and chef find himself championing locally sourced ingredients in this equatorial sunspot?
While on holiday in Kuala Lumpur, fate brought him to an underground supper club where he met his future business partner, Jenifer Kuah. The two realised they shared an understanding that good food simply comes from presenting each ingredient at their best. Thus, Sitka Restaurant was established as a modern casual eatery, while Sitka Studio is the refined modern contemporary restaurant serving tasting menus and organic wines twice a month.
Located in the chic enclave of Plaza Batai in Damansara Heights, Sitka Studio opened with the aim of changing the way people think of local produce by elevating fresh ingredients into exciting, modern cuisine. The menu is crafted around locally and regionally sourced ingredients and nearly every condiment is made from scratch in its own kitchen, from butter, miso and vinegar to Japanese pickles, and flavoured honeys and oils. “We initially wanted to focus on 100 per cent Malaysian ingredients, but with the local fascination for imported ingredients and the increasing number of events rendered it near impossible. The menu is still focused on using fresh local produce, but we include fantastic ingredients from around the region.” explains the Scottish chef.
A well-stocked pantry, fresh ingredients and a broad repertoire of recipes and techniques have allowed him to play around in the kitchen, leading to some of the most amazing modern dishes served in Kuala Lumpur. “The food is thoughtful and, sometimes, simple with flavours that are familiar and not so familiar. If it works and tastes good, then it generally gets a spot on the menu,” he clarifies as he presents a tantalising plate of aged duck glazed with a mix of sherry and natural rambutan honey from Vietnam. Aged for a month to two in the Studio’s aging cabinet, the meat is surprisingly tender while packing a flavourful punch. The bird’s intense meaty flavour is complemented with a garnish of pickled mulberries, hibiscus and baby kalian.
The ingredients used in crafting this savoury dish are almost wholly derived from surrounding farms as Chef Recomio works with hand-picked local producers, fishermen and small farms to encourage and support sustainable food practices. “It’s just about doing what’s right. Why on earth would I buy an English broccoli when they are grown just up the road in Cameron Highlands?” Also sourced from the highlands are tomatoes – the chef’s current favourite – that shine in a refined ‘pizza’ assembled with grade nine marbling Australian wagyu, parmesan gel, Thai basil and seaweed oil. Despite the abundance of meat on the plate, the dish is light and the tomatoes’ refreshing acidic notes truly shine as the star of the dish.
He’s not alone in his quest in making good food for people to have a good time, though. The talented team at Sitka also includes Chef Chen Kim Leun, who was a semifinalist in the prestigious San Pellegrino Young Chef 2017. Moreover, Sitka Studio regularly welcomes guest chefs from all over South-East Asia, who take over the Studio’s kitchens to create a bespoke menu in collaboration with Chef Recomio. Successful exploits in the past include teaming up with Chef Rishi Naleendra of the Michelinstarred Cheek by Jowl restaurant in Singapore and, most recently, Chefs Ben Cross and Stephen Moore from Mejekawi by KU DE TA.
While Chef Recomio isn’t holding back in his creations at Sitka Studio, he does think that Malaysia’s gastronomic scene has a long way to go. “I’m not sure if Malaysia is truly ready for fine dining. Looking at our neighbours, Singapore or Bangkok, it’s clear that the much-maligned local scene is a good decade behind,” he laments. “There needs to be a space for restaurants like this – one that focuses on local produce, not local dishes – and there needs to be policy changes in agriculture for that to happen.” The situation may seem bleak but with exciting establishments like Sitka Studio injecting some much-needed enthusiasm into the scene, there’s still hope for the future!