In February, The Library in The Ritz Carlton, Kuala Lumpur featured a culinary concept designed by YTL Corporate Executive Chef, Wai Look Chow, and inspired by Two Friends – One Cuisine , the award-winning cookbook he wrote with his close friend, Michelin-starred chef Johann Lafer. The Peak meets both chefs as they reminisce over their 15-year friendship and how they have grown individually and collectively from it.
What was the inspiration behind the menu?
Chef Wai Look Chow (CW): Through our relationship with one another, we have built a very strong cuisine together. That is how we keep in touch with each other, through our food. The inspiration is very much the relationship.
Fusing Asian and European cuisines together is not quite common. How did you know what would work?
CW: For us, I think Chef Johann would agree, we always add a little extra something to the meal. If we were to reconstruct the way we work together, it would be artistic. Say we have a plain white paper to start with. If Chef Johann produces something in green, I will then come up with a complementary light green to match. It sparks together and that is when we know we have matched.
When you both began cooking together, did you have a specific goal or did you just see where the meal would take you?
Chef Johann Lafer (CJ): We go to the market together. This morning, we went to buy the fresh fruits that were used for today’s dessert. Buying local produce together is a big part of it.
CW: Once we put all of our resources together, we taste and, from there, we have to agree together that we both are happy with how the food is. Only then will we serve it.
CJ: I also brought some spices from Germany with me. Some chili sauce, a little special pepper… and we mix it all together.
CW: That’s how we do it. What do you hope to achieve with this concept menu? CW: Our aim is to share the knowledge we gained from our friendship with the world. We will begin slowly with what we have, but the end goal is to share what we know and have learnt.
CJ: People do a lot of travelling nowadays. Europeans like Asian food and vice versa. So if you happen to be travelling in Malaysia and come to The Library, you can get them both. You can experience the mixture of both cuisines. But not everyone likes solely Asian or European food, which is why I think that the star of the meal is the finished product. We bring the flavours together with herbs from Europe and spice from Asia to create this unique Two Friends – One Cuisine. Normally, a single chef will do something like this, but with the two of us – him living here and I in Europe – we bring that experience together for a unique mix.
How do you both combine your signature styles?
CW: Whenever we have food in front of us, we always have to taste it and agree with each other before we serve it. It’s just a matter of adjusting it to the right point.
CJ: I’ve known Chef Wai since he was very young but, for me, he is the best cook in Malaysia. He has the feeling, the taste and he knows exactly what he wants, and that is the most important thing for us. You cannot find anywhere in the world two chefs who can work like this together. Normally, a chef wants to make only his own cuisine. But we know each other, we are friends and we try to make the best food to be served on your plate. There is no ‘you’ or ‘I’ when we make the food – we are always working together.
With such a deep friendship, is there anything you disagree about?
CW: Whenever we are adding spice or seasoning the dish, I will fight if I don’t agree with what or how much we are using until we reach the point we are both happy with.
How did you both meet?
CW: We built our friendship from food. Johann visited Pangkor Laut Resort and, back then, I was a young boy. I would try and impress every single guest, including Johann. He was really impressed with what I cooked.
CJ: It was my first visit to Pangkor Laut Resort when I met him and it was on the beach. The main course he made was duck breast with red cabbage dumpling. Normally, you don’t cook red cabbage in Asia as people don’t really like it – but he did! I’ve never forgot that evening. I even remember the first course – a salad with mango, spring onion and shrimp.