Food has no boundaries, says Chef Wan on Singapore-Malaysia squabble over local dishes

Nurul Azliah
Senior Lifestyle Reporter
Malaysia’s Chef Wan opens new a-la-carte restaurant in Singapore. (Photo: Chef Wan’s Kitchen/Facebook)

The recent popularity of Nasi Lemak burgers in Singapore has no doubt reignited a squabble among foodies from both sides of the causeway over the accurate origin of the local dish. However, Malaysian culinary star Chef Wan disagrees with this endless debate, because, similar to love, “food has no boundaries”.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, the 59-year-old said, “We should always be thankful and blessed to enjoy good food and not quarrel about it. We should (instead) spread more love and respect for other people.”

He also found the Nasi Lemak Burger, introduced by McDonald’s Singapore and later myBurgerLab in Kuala Lumpur, a “lovely” idea. Chef Wan, whose real name is Datuk Redzuawan Ismail, recently launched a new restaurant in Singapore called Chef Wan’s Kitchen.

Located on the second level of the Esplanade, Theatres by the Bay, the a-la-carte restaurant offers a wide array of Chef Wan’s favourite dishes at affordable prices. The new eatery was opened after popular buffet restaurant 1 Market by Chef Wan closed at Plaza Singapura in 2016.

Chef Wan was the chef consultant and had developed the menu for 1 Market, which was owned and operated by Food Junction Management for over three years before it became mired with complaints over food quality. Now, he’s back with a new restaurant concept, working only with people whom he trusts.

When asked about how he normally deals with the challenge of keeping the quality of food consistent, he said, “1 Market served its food buffet-style. Although buffets do have their merits, when food is cooked in bulk quantity, often times, the quality does not match up to that of food cooked a-la-minute, as the latter can be made fresh, piping hot and delicious for our customers.”

At Chef Wan’s Kitchen, customers can expect dishes inspired by Southeast Asian, Moroccan, Portuguese, Javanese and Spanish cuisines that are priced from $9.90.

“I know there are many east-meets-west concepts, but we believe that many people are still looking for authentic heritage recipes, which we want to serve,” said Chef Wan, who has added signature dishes by his mother and grandmother on the menu.

“For example, Bibik Neo’s laksa noodles is my grandmother’s famous dish, a signature dish that will always hold a special place in my heart…  it uses a unique recipe that combines ground fresh prawns with coconut milk, which gives it an amazing ‘lemak’ flavour,” he said.

The “Cik Aini’s Mee Rebus with Prawn Fritters” came from his mother, who cooked the exact same Mee Rebus for 31 years while raising her children. This dish was also a favourite of the Brunei royal family, said Chef Wan, who now enjoys cooking it for his daughter, Serina Redzuawan, and grandchildren too.

“Usually when I’m at home, my grandchildren love my soto ayam and spaghetti bolognese, while Serina loves my laksa and prawn curry,” he said.

Among the other dishes, the Portuguese Baked Cod is a personal favourite, which Chef Wan learned during one of his overseas visits. He also plans to further expand the menu and accommodate new delicacies, which he he hopes to uncover during his travels.

“My foremost pressing priority will be to ensure this restaurant is able to serve its customers with delicious, quality food, before I grow any further. I believe focus is the key to success,” said Chef Wan.

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