Sehati Sejiwa: Dewakan on Celebrating Local Ingredients

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 hi@dewakan.my

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