DRAWING together different elements to develop the unique, is a philosophy that expatriate Steve Allen observes both in life and in his culinary creations.
He found the eccentricities of working in Malaysia alongside vastly differing cultures a challenge, but one he greatly relished overcoming.
Born in the little village of Hellingly, Sussex in the United Kingdom, Allen worked as a chef in London for 11 years under celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
“I have been in Malaysia for over two years now but when I first came here, no one trusted me for a full year,” recalled Allen who is the CEO of a popular restaurant group.
“People here work really hard but you have to earn their trust and respect before they really start following you.
“I had to learn another way of getting people on board, to work together by embracing each other’s culture to better understand people and their values.
“It’s tricky, but as an expatriate it was one of the reasons that draws me to the country, what I find so very interesting and a rewarding challenge,” he said enthusiastically.
In addition to exploring the dynamics between people of diverse origins, the 34-year-old delved into the fact that Malaysians are generally obsessed with food, an arena he can certainly identify with.
“I enjoy cooking Malay curries because they are very intricate, a lot of ingredients go into them and it’s quite surprising what the outcome is and how it works, because in England we say keep it simple.
“I have also been playing around with the local food, using it as inspiration to look at how I can turn it into something new that is my own.
“It is a dream to create my own style of food in that way and making it fun,” he said, citing his coconut pandan Panna Cotta creation that takes a leaf out of Malaysian kuih recipes as a decadently mouthwatering example.
To the chef of 18 years, learning the Malaysian palate that is accustomed to the contrasting flavours of food from dissimilar backgrounds was somewhat confusing.
However, he found it to be the one thing that defined Malaysian culture and which united the people.
“Food is very personalised.
“If you asked me what dishes I enjoy, I would say I quite like going to the mamak restaurant for a roti naan and teh tarik, it’s simple. But to me, it’s not only about the food.
“I see the mamak stalls as one place that truly says ‘1Malaysia’ because you get all races eating there.
“And I see it being about the whole experience; the ambience, the chatter around you and the people who eat there are the elements that make the difference. That, for me, is a big part of food,” said Allen, who confessed to loving foodie tours.
So is there actually anything else other than food, that he likes about his current country of residence?
A resounding yes, as he recalled his best memories of Malaysia were from his first trip to the beautiful beaches of Langkawi, particularly at the Datai bay.
Then he came to Kuala Lumpur for a four-day visit, and fell in love with it.
“I love it because it’s kind of a weird city. As a comparison, in Singapore one can get everything I get at home and it is very ‘touristy’.
“However, that is not what I want. I want somewhere I can live like the locals, and Kuala Lumpur is that place for me, it feels real.”
While Allen hopes to tour around the kampung and small towns of Malaysia on a scooter next, strangely enough he views working as an expatriate as the best vacation.
“I find the best thing about living abroad is that it feels like you’re always on holiday.
“When I go back home it’s a holiday and when I come back, although I’m working, I feel it’s still like a holiday.
“For the British, anywhere hot is a holiday,” he quipped.