words by Tien Chew
An established name in the Kuala Lumpur gastronomy scene, Raymond Tham is the chef-owner-founder of Skillet at 163 and Beta KL, respectively a modern European and modern Malaysian restaurant. The jovial chef is also French fashion house Dior’s chef partner and has been responsible for the curation of the menu at the trendy pop-up Dior Café over the past few years. Yet, his list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there. Tham also holds a culinary degree from the prestigious Westminster Kingsway London and has even contributed to KDU University’s hospitality school as a lecturer.
“Today, I see myself as a restauranteur, not just a chef. I need to be constantly aware of shifts in the market and have a solid understanding of the business to ensure we run things well. It’s no longer just about creating the menu and ensuring we give our patrons the best we can,” says Tham.
Tham is fortunate to know that he wanted to cook and become a chef since he was young. Most would consider discovering your calling so early in life a boon, let alone having the opportunity to live your dream job. Ever the sensible character, however, he views his career as a dream come true, but with a pinch of salt to ground him to reality.
“Yes, I would say that I’m living the dream because I’ve wanted to become a chef and own a restaurant since I was seven. And no because I would say that it’s a very time-consuming and labour-intensive business. There are pros and cons, I suppose,” he says.
“Running a restaurant is like a marathon, and I still don’t consider myself very successful because our restaurants are still under the 10-year mark, and I’m not sure what can happen 20 or 30 years down the road. The true challenge for an F&B business is maintaining your reputation, where consistency comes into the picture,” he explains.
As someone who orchestrates several restaurants and kitchen teams, Tham is fully aware of the complementary skillsets and personalities he needs to ensure that a restaurant continues to flourish creatively and financially. He attributes his staff as a critical pillar, acknowledging that everyone can have a vision, but it’s tough to bring it to life if it’s just by yourself. Being the team player that he is, he attributes his accomplishments today to the chefs from whom he learned his core values, and the business partners who shared and believed in his dream.
Despite having many personal achievements, Tham still desires to leave behind a legacy that’s more horizontal than vertical when he retires. “I hope that the those who have worked with us continue to go on to become the people they want to be as well,” he says. “I want to see them grow and contribute to the dining scene in their own right, whether taking over a restaurant and giving it their take or starting from scratch.”