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Chef Darren Teoh has a simple philosophy. Be curious, have courage, value your roots. His focus has always been about a deep, reverent connection between the indigenous of Malaysia and the freedom to express his values through food. Dewakan is Darren's expression of cooking with purpose. This decision sets the stage for imaginative, inventive servings of modern Malaysian cuisine using indigenous ingredients such as kulim, ketumpang air, keluak and tenggek burung. This unconventional approach has not gone unnoticed. In 2019, Dewakan became the first and only Malaysian restaurant to be included in the prestigious Asia's 50 Best Restaurant's list.
Tell us a bit more about the idea behind Dewakan.
For a long time, I was teaching in one of Malaysia’s best cooking schools, KDU University College and Dewakan began in 2015 as an entrepreneurial initiative at Glenmarie, Shah Alam campus. We relocated to the KL City Centre in January this year tk challenge and change the way we express cooking, while positioning ourselves to be more accessible to a wider audience.
What was the inspiration behind coming up with Dewakan?
A combination of Malay words ‘dewa’ (god), and ‘makan’ (food), Dewakan honours and celebrates God’s freshest bounty from Malaysian farms, seas, mountains, and jungles. Our dining experience is designed to create meaningful connections with the people and culture represented in every ingredient as it also respects the people behind them – the local growers, fishermen and artisans. These elements weave a tapestry of compelling narratives, bringing to life a culinary adventure that is uniquely Dewakan.
What makes Dewakan stand out from other high-end Malaysian restaurants?
We do not actually refer to Dewakan as a fine-dining restaurant because we do not actually incorporate elements of what one would expect in a fine-dining establishment. For instance, there are no crisp white tablecloths, waiters in tuxedos and French names, although at best we may use some styles of the cuisine. I believe Dewakan offers the closest representation to Malaysian cuisine. Our focus has always been on using the freshest local ingredients in the spirit of doing something that is very Malaysian.
What is one misconception that Malaysians have about high-end food that you wish you could change?
That value and perceived value are the same thing. It will be nice for people to ascertain for themselves the value of something instead of relying on other people to make that judgement for you.
Dewakan has always given an emphasis on honoring the ingredients used which is not seen in many other places. Why do you feel this is so important?
I am interested in our local indigenous ingredients, what these are, where they come from and how they fit into the strata of our society. Also, how they were relevant to us before and their relevance to us today. All these create an interesting tapestry of stories reflecting our people, culture, the past, present and future which represent a small snapshot of our local culinary heritage and experience.
Food has always been a big part of Malaysian culture. How did it feel to put Malaysia on the map when Dewakan made it into Asia’s Best 50 List?
It was nice to be acknowledged for the work that is being done by all in Malaysia. I am talking about the farmers, the producers and other restaurants who are pushing it every day as well as our guests and the guys at the restaurant now and before. It is nice to represent that.
How important do you feel it is to support local especially with that is going on right now?
I think it is more important to stop blatently borrowing or importing culture wholesale. I think that when we do that, there will be a greater appreciation for the work that is done closer to home. I would not just say support local. I would say that instead of conforming to a culture of consumption only, we find a way where we can be part of the production. This way everyone actively contributes.
Where can we make a reservation to dine at Dewakan?
You can head on over to our website, www.dewakan.my or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us more about you and Semata Art Prints?
I am Taco Joe, a tattoo artist, and I run Semata Prints with my wife Shanta. We are an independent fine art printing and publishing company focused on Archival collectible tattoo-art prints and books.
What made you and your wife come up with the idea of Semata Prints?
I have been collecting and producing tattoo prints for years, and realised there was no such establishment in the region focused in the tattoo world providing artist an affordable and accessible platform to produce museum grade prints. And during the lockdown I wasn’t able to tattoo, so i started painting a lot. I was looking for a place here to make high quality prints, but it was either way too expensive or not meeting the criteria of how i wanted the prints to come out looking. So my wife and i just bought a fine art printer and head dived straight into the printing world. I have also been traveling as a tattooer for over a decade and have met many inspiring tattoo artist who became close friends of mine, and being able to produce the prints of the paintings I love from my friends to share it with the community here is something I am really stoked about.
Many people view collecting art as an expensive hobby. What do you have to say to people who feel that way?
Well, it’s subjective really. I find a lot of value in collecting art, or in buying books. Theres something about the physical aspect of a print: the feeling of the material, the colour, etc. or the smell of a physical book, that is nostalgic to me. As an artist my library is my wealth fountain, from the years of traveling and collecting either art of books, and referring to them when I am preparing for a drawing or looking for inspiration. There’s something poetic in that. and to me it goes beyond the aesthetics. Some people might not appreciate that and thats ok. I wouldn’t spend more than rm300 on a pair of shoes but I’d spend triple that on a painting by someone I really like. same goes to art for others.
What is one common misconception about tattooing/art collecting in Malaysia that you wish you could change?
I can’t speak about general art collecting in Malaysia as it occupies an overly-wide spectrum, mainly because I am only concentrated in a tiny crack in the wall that is the tattoo scene. But a common misconception here is that the value and worth in a ‘reproduction’ art piece or ‘print’ is underestimated and devalued, opposed to an original painting. As for change, I hope that people will realize there is value and quality in lowbrow art of fine art prints and that they are able to enjoy it and at the same time support artists in this way.
What impact do you wish to leave in Malaysia through Semata Art Prints?
With Semata Art Prints, we represent the very niche of an obscured art-section, and aim to make it more accessible to those that find interest in either tattoo art or the culture that it encapsulates. We also aim to maybe reach a wider audience here in Malaysia that would otherwise not know such a stream exists. Many people associate art collecting as something of luxury, but it doesn’t have to be. We try to contribute our small part by connecting and sharing something we deeply dedicate our lives to tattooing and its world.
Where can we get our hands on the art you have for sale?
You can head over to our website, www.semataprints.com or you can reach out to us via Instagram, @semata.print.
Tell us more about you & Budi
Tai Yong: Budi is a proudly Malaccan cocktail bar inspired by Malacca's rich history and unique local flavors. I'm a proud Malaccan who has been in the F&B industry for 10 years. I started Lust in Jan 2012 till 2016 & Nagaba from Sept 2014 till 2018. Lust was a medium capacity club with music themed nights and Nagaba was a multi storey restaurant & bar. Well I started as a party promoter and the owner of the venue I used to host my parties at (Marketplace) suggested that I open a venue to host my parties so I partnered with my friend Azran. We used to host some parties together at Market Place
The speakeasy scene in Melaka is relatively new compared to Kuala Lumpur. What contributed to the decision of opening in Melaka?
Tai Yong: Well I never had the intention to open a cocktail bar. I wanted to open a bar with a decent range of drink selection and Malaccan style hospitality. The cocktails were more of a marketing tool to attract more customers to visit us. The cocktails were also a way to showcase some of Malacca's unique flavors.
How does Budi showcase Malacca's unique flavours?
Tai Yong: By creating cocktails using locally sourced ingredients. For the folks in KL who want to take a drive down to Melaka, come to Budi for the Malaccan bar experience. Our cocktails are inspired by local Malaccan flavours and we try to always either grow our own ingredients (like our own Kedondong & Roselle fruits). If not we source the ingredients from local farmers. The Malaccan experience also includes a bar snack by a 70 year old Peranakan bibik to hosting High Tea on weekends featuring Nyonya kuihs and Hainanese satay. All these are of course delivered with the warm Malaccan hospitality.
What is the biggest misconception that you wish you could change about Malaysian consumers?
Tai Yong: That drinking is about getting drunk. Though the destination is the same but the journey can be different. That there is a difference to having five RM10 beers to a RM50 cocktail. The latter is a labour of love that required hours of dedication & diligence. Support a local artisan in their craft by learning & appreciating the process as much as the product.
If Malaysia was a cocktail, what would it be and why?
Tai Yong: I think the Jungle Bird really represents Malaysia. It's the prefect of blend of sweet, sour & bitter. It's so many complex flavors that's work in harmony to create the perfectly balanced cocktail
For the people who want to come by Budi, where do we follow you/make a booking ?
Tai Yong: The can whatsapp/Call us at 0177188269 for reservations are seating in limited to only 15 our IG/FB is @budi.melaka.
Mahesh has been in the coffee industry for 7 years now, but it was not always destined to turn out this way. When choosing his career path, he was like many, unsure of his career path. He started out thinking corporate would be the best way to go and jumped between different industries but never feeling fully satisfied. Through everything, the one constant in his life was coffee. He had always loved coffee, met up with people over coffee and even continued to work part time as a barista through all this because he loved it. He then realised that he could do something in this industry because it was something he loved and in his words, "It is more than a job. It is about building a culture, one that I love."
Cloud Catcher was conceived with a passion for speciality coffee. Founded in 2015, they strive to connect different people and different communities from all walks of life by spreading the speciality coffee culture. They ensure all the beans used are produced in the most sustainable way from all across the world. Cloud Catcher has the simple aim of sharing great coffee with as many people as possible, and continue empowering the lives of farmers and producers we work with. In their words "it's more than a beverage, it's a culture."
Tell us more about you & Cloud Catcher
Mahesh: Hi, I'm Mahesh, coffee enthusiast, outdoor junkie. I work with Cloud Catcher. We're a team of passionate individuals working to grow the specialty coffee scene in Malaysia. We pride ourselves in sourcing exceptional quality green beans from across the globe and roasting it here in Malaysia. Green bean traders, coffee roasters, educators - basically a one stop center for specialty coffee.
What is it like being a specialty coffee roaster in Malaysia?
Mahesh: Coffee is more than just a beverage. It's a culture, a journey. And a fun journey indeed! As roasters, this journey connects us with both ends of the supply chain. We get to work with producers and bring the best of the coffee world to our region.Being a food loving nation, most Malaysians like myself grew up having our traditional coffee. With specialty coffee, it's a whole different world as we highlight the unique and natural flavours that these coffees have. When the specialty scene started booming here a few years back, we found that most Malaysians were still not used to the delicacy of flavours that exist in specialty coffee. Trust me, sometimes it's almost like drinking tea or a refreshing juice. We had to educate people and shift their mindset over the years. The industry is still growing and we're glad to say that more are being exposed to this amazing world of flavours that is specialty coffee.
Do you see the Malaysian specialty coffee scene growing at a sustainable rate?
Mahesh: Whilst it has been growing, there's definitely a lot more potential in the industry. There's still a huge percentage of people who don't really understand the difference between specialty coffee and commercial coffee, and that is the biggest challenge.Through proper exposure and education, we hope that we can convert everyone haha. The thing that usually puts people off is the price of these coffees. The market is filled with cheap, commercial coffees that don't taste good, and some are even filled with chemicals and preservatives. What we roast are quality coffees. They taste way better, and are healthier. If we can instill into everyone and educate them about the difference that these coffees have, trust me, one taste and you'll be a convert!
What is one common misconception about coffee that Malaysians have, that you wish you can change?
Mahesh: That coffee is meant to be bold and bitter only. Before the emergence of specialty coffee, that's the most common perception of coffee, and because of that, sugar or sweetened milk is often used to cover up bad quality beans or dark roasted coffee. But quality coffee carries amazing flavours naturally. That's what we want to showcase, great coffee, carefully roasted to highlight it's natural flavours.
If you could educate Malaysians about one thing, what would it be?
Mahesh: A change of mindset. Art and craft isn't defined by region. PEOPLE create beautiful things with the right skill and heart - yes even here in our motherland.Like us, there's many passionate local producers and creators (in any industry). Break that mindset and experience/support local!
What is an impact you wanna leave in Malaysia through Cloud Catcher?
Mahesh: Coffee is all about community and relationships. My hope is that through specialty coffee, we encourage a healthier, tastier way of drinking coffee and connecting with people.
Where can we get your beans/coffee and where can we follow you?
We have got a wide selection of roasted coffee beans on our website, cloudcatcher.asia. To see what goes on behind the scenes at our roastery, or for updates on our latest offerings, follow us on Facebook or Instagram @cloudcatcher.asia
Amirul Ashraf, founder of Sinema Cult did not start out his career through fashion. He started out writing local movie reviews back in 2018 and managed to turn it into a small independent film media. He then went on to create a Malaysian film inspired clothing brand in 2020, which we now know as Sinema Cult. Sinema Cult was curated predominantly to elevate the support and encourage the spirit of highlighting Malaysian pop culture.
Sinema Cult was created as he wanted to merge film and street fashion in a way that also pays homage to Malaysian cinema culture.
What is Sinema Cult all about?
Amirul: Sinema Cult was formed with the vision of merging film and street while combining it with the aesthetics of Malaysian films. We use thematic aspects of pop culture to adapt the array of excellence and self-referential merch to connect with the local pop-culture lovers.
What made you think of coming up with Sinema Cult and how did it all begin?
Amirul: The experiences I had watching movies since I was a kid is what influenced my interest in filmmaking. The idea of combining film and fashion dates back to 2017 when I wanted to highlight the pop culture identity in local movies. However, the very first design was scrapped on the very first day of our launch as we did not have a proper plan nor structure. Fast forward 3 years later, we reintroduced this idea and named it Sinema Cult.
What do you think of the current film industry we have in Malaysia?
Amirul: The film industry in Malaysia is no doubt a few years behind our neighboring countries but it is currently moving in the right direction. There is a new generation of filmmakers that have been producing good quality films that get screened worldwide.
How important do you feel it is now for Malaysians to support local brands?
Amirul: Right now, the ongoing global pandemic has presented a lot of unprecedented challenges to many local businesses. I think it is important for Malaysians to help each other by supporting our local products in order to get our economy back on track.
What is a misconception that Malaysians have towards local clothing brands that you would like to change?
Amirul: One of the biggest misconceptions in my opinion about local clothing is that many Malaysians are unable to differentiate between small brands and huge cooperations predominantly on price point. We need to educate ourselves that small brands normally do not produce items on a massive scale and their price range is also influenced by the quality of materials being used.
Where can we reach you and cop your merch?
Amirul: You can reach us online at @sinemacult on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to find out more about our brand. People who are fairly new to the local scene are always welcomed here.
At the age of 18, Jaems Yip started his journey into western boxing while in Australia. Shortly after, he was introduced to Muay Thai which started him on this path. After learning more Muay Thai while in Singapore, he then started to train in Hong Kong. He went on to bounce around a few gyms before finally coming home, where he eventually settled at Cross Muay Thai.
The idea to form Cross Muay Thai was first conceived back in 2015. Since then the Cross Muay Thai family has grown to over 5000 members and counting. Cross Muay Thai exists with a very simple aim, to provide the most authentic form of Muay Thai to be appreciated by people from all walks of life.
Tell us a little bit about Cross Muay Thai.
Jaems: It is a martial arts gym focused mainly on Muay Thai and Boxing. What we really aim to do is to break away from the stereotype of what a Muay Thai gym is like. This is why you will not find dragons, fire, skulls, etc as part of our branding as we aim to present a more neutral and non-confrontational setting for people to learn and appreciate this ancient art form.
What is the stereotype you feel people have of a Muay Thai Gym?
Jaems: For a long time, Muay Thai has been viewed as an art that is aggressive, violent, and male-dominated. Muay Thai gyms have always been known as a rough place to “rough it out”. While this view is not necessarily wrong, it is also not important. Our gym provides an environment that is clean, friendly, welcoming, and conducive while still learning the pure, undiluted artform.
What is Muay Thai?
Jaems: Muay translates to boxing, so it all loosely translates to Thai Boxing. Muay Thai is derived from an ancient art form Muay Boran and unlike its traditional cousin, Muay Thai sees the introduction of certain things like boxing gloves to make it more universally acceptable. It has the nickname the art of 8 limbs as it utilizes 8 points of contact namely, 2 fists, 2 elbows, 2 knees, and 2 shins. Muay Thai also teaches the sweeps and clinches which is a Thai version of stand-up grappling.
Muay Thai has now become a martial art very popular among Malaysians, why do you think that is?
Jaems: To be honest, I think the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) around the world which is led mainly by UFC in the northern hemisphere and ONE FC in the southern hemisphere has really helped boost the position of Muay Thai. When I had first started learning about 20 years ago, there were not that many gyms available but today, the gym market is truly vibrant with a Muay Thai gym in almost every single housing development.
With the current pandemic ongoing, how important is learning a martial art like Muay Thai and keeping yourself healthy?
Jaems: During these unprecedented times, we are seeing more and more people turn to fitness to keep themselves occupied and in good shape. It does not just have to be Muay Thai, it could be anything and it is extremely encouraging to see this among Malaysians. We are very happy to see more and more Malaysians walking around their taman, going out for jogs, and heading to their local gyms. For us, we have seen all our members (and more) starting to come back. Our challenge now is to keep the gym we love clean and safe for everyone.
Many issues regarding racial harmony have been highlighted this year in our country. How does a martial art like Muay Thai help curb these issues we face?
Jaems: Like any other sport, it helps break a lot of racial barriers we have and bring everyone closer together. I always encourage people to attend a Muay Thai event at least once as Muay Thai truly a beautiful sight. You see fighters from all corners of the globe getting together to showcase a sport we all know and love. After everything, in the end, it is all hugs, cheers, and congratulations.
What advice would you give someone who is just thinking about starting their Muay Thai journey?
Jaems: I think the advice is the same as to be good at anything, you need to be mildly obsessed. Keep training regularly even if your body is slightly tired, just keep pushing. Turning up at the gym is already half the battle won. Find a good trainer that will always push you to ensure you do not give up.
Where can people go to get started with Cross Muay Thai?
Jaems: We are on Instagram and Facebook as Cross Muay Thai. We also have a website, www.crossmuaythai.com, and are available on WhatsApp, +60127038317, but the best way to reach us would be to drop by the gym and say hello.
Shahrin Bahar, the founder of menswear tailor and designer S Bahar, has been involved in the apparel industry for around 15 years, with his brand S Bahar operating for around 5 years. S Bahar specializes in bespoke and made to measure menswear which includes suits, shirts, and trousers.
How did you get into Fashion?
Shahrin: I finally had the guts after SPM to tell my parents of my intentions to pursue fashion and menswear design as a career. I went on to take a small portfolio course and at the end of the final semester, I had an interview for a menswear degree intake and got accepted. This was the first step into my career in menswear.
What is it like being a fashion designer in Malaysia?
Shahrin: For my namesake brand, S Bahar, we do not consider ourselves a fashion brand, however, we do think of ourselves as a made to measure men’s tailor studio. Most of our clothes are bespoken or made to order and we are yet to carry a ready to wear line. Because of this, we do not follow fashion calendars or create drops according to a season.
As someone in the creative scene, do you feel that the rate of the creative scene in Malaysia is growing at a sustainable rate?
Shahrin: Growing, yes but sustainable, we have to observe in the near future. There are segments in the creative scene that are thriving like music and animation but for fashion, let’s just say we are only at the beginning but it is looking promising so far.
What is one common misconception that people have about being a fashion designer in Malaysia that you wish you could change?
Shahrin: That the number of social media followers you have reflects your revenue/ profit and losses. It really does not.
What can Malaysians do to support the Malaysian fashion scene better?
Shahrin: We have to understand that the scene we have is still at its infancy when compared to the fashion capitals of the world. We must first accept that we should not compare our scene to other fashion capitals and we have to own our scene and culture fully. We have to be unapologetically Malaysian with our ethos, aesthetics, and uniqueness.
There are many designers emerging in Malaysia. In your own words, what differentiates a good designer from a great designer?
Shahrin: A great accountant alongside the designer and a good sales colleague would help a lot as well.
At PMC, we often face the question of “Why so expensive for a Malaysian brand?”. What are your thoughts on this?
Shahrin: We have to get rid of the stigma that something made in Malaysia or ASEAN is supposed to be at the lower end of quality, experience, and price. Only when we stop comparing will this question be extinct.
What can we be expecting from S Bahar and where can we purchase your clothing?
Shahrin: We have just released a suit bag under our namesake brand. We feel this solves a lot of problems for people that want to bring their suits along while travelling. We are also coming out with a diffusion line that symbolizes alternative tailoring. We are developing suits that can be washed in a washing machine, sports jackets that are packable and tailoring made from knitwear. All this can be expected by the fourth quarter of 2020. We are a by appointment only studio and are located in Bangsar South. You can come to us for your tailored outfits such as suits, shirts and trousers.
In 2015, Lex founded his first barbershop Amplitude Barbershop (now known as OTHRS), which partnered a guitar store Amplitude Music and hence, the initial name of the shop. With the initial goal to build a barbershop catering to performing men's haircuts, the passion to serve the community was still burning strongly. This eventually became a vision and mission for the company. On top of delivering quality service to clients, the company now had a clearer direction - a purposeful one to serve the community.
People are the core and focus of what OTHRS is about. OTHRS is a company that celebrates people and embraces each person's individuality. Through barbering and education, OTHRS aim to create an impact towards its community - touching lives one haircut at a time.
Tell us more about yourself & Othrs Barbers
Lex: I’m Lex, founder of OTHRS. Barbers. OTHRS. has been around since 2015. This year is our fifth year as a company. We are also a barberschool where we’ve trained many barbers which some have successfully set a mark in the industry running their own barbershop.
What's it like being a Malaysian barbershop? Share one advantage and one challenge.
Lex: When we first started in the scene about 5-6 years ago, there wasn’t many barbershop around. But over the years we’ve seen many uprising talented barbershops. This gives the industry a push to continue to elevate the standard and keep growing the industry. As a local brand we constantly look up to the west for inspirations but do not forget about our roots. We want to be as relevant and engaging with our clientele as much as possible and always stay up to date with the industry.
One advantage would be our patrons. People who believe in our company value will stay through with us even in tough times. We’ve seen our clientele become our family. This year we’ve tasted a glimpse of lockdown as a nation. And with the support of our clients our business continues to strive and this really pushed us to work harder to provide a better experience for our clients.
The challenge being a barbershop in Malaysia is the appreciation towards the craft from the public in general.
What is one common misconception about barbering in Malaysia that you wish you can change?
Lex: One common misconception about barbering in Malaysia is “females can’t be barbers”. I’ve seen some of the most talented barbers out there and they were female. I wish to break this stereotype. It's about the craft, not the gender.
If you could educate Malaysians about one thing, what would it be and why?
Lex: If I could educate Malaysians about one thing, it would be to put in the effort collectively and constantly as a nation to pressure for a positive change. We can not just wait for the government to do its job. Change can be even helping one person. Businesses are also a vehicle of transformation for this nation. We can do so much if the people are united.
What is an impact you wanna leave in Malaysia through Othrs?
Lex: The Othrs. value will always be about empowering people. The barbers, the clients and the people outside the 4 walls of our barbershops. The message is simple, we want to share our simple value of touching lives through a simple haircut. Building meaningful friendships through our business. As Malaysians, let’s build more meaningful businesses. Let’s rebuild Malaysia through us, the Malaysian.
What would you say to someone who wants to take up the skill of barbering?
Lex: Barbering is a skill. It can be a hobby. It can be a profession. You’re never too old to learn a new skill. If it’s not today then when?ff
Where do we follow you and how do we book a cut at Othrs or enroll for barber lessons at the Othrs Barber School?
You can find out more about us or our courses at www.Othrs.my or follow us on Instagram at @othrsbarbers or Facebook at OTHRS BARBERS.