KUALA LUMPUR: Hardly a year since its debut in New York City, Malaysian restaurant Mamak Malaysia, has been awarded a 'One Star' rating by the Michelin Guide, the international benchmark of good food.
Owned by Chef Nani Yusof Hughie, a former journalist, the restaurant which serves popular dishes of Penang's Indian Muslim community, was listed in the guide, a professional rating of quality restaurants in December last year.
"I am surprised and honoured by the recognition as I am not a professional chef, and that includes my kitchen team," said Nani.
"Furthermore, I am very new in the restaurant business, not even a year," she said.
The restaurateur, who is also a freelance writer, said the coveted award is meaningful for her and her team who have been working untiringly to ensure that meals are prepared with high standards.
"I was cleaning up my office at the restaurant on Jan 18 when I found a stack of letters on my desk. To my surprise, I found this letter dated Dec 23 from Michelin," Nani recalled.
Mamak Malaysia serves mixed Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisines, which are popular in Penang, she said, noting that some of her dishes are not served at other Malaysian restaurants in the United States.
Born and raised in Penang, Nani is the creator of Mami Penang Cooking Inc, the registered company that runs Mamak Malaysia, the first fully halal Malaysian restaurant in New York City.
Since moving permanently to New York in 2005, Nani has built two successful businesses, Mami PG's Cooking and Melayu's Cookies.
A self-taught chef, Nani has become known for her nasi lemak and nasi kandar.
"We are famous for our shrimp nasi kandar, beef nasi kandar, squid nasi kandar, crispy okra and lamb rack with rendang sauce", she said.
Within three months of its launch, the restaurant received rave reviews from various media such as The New York Times, The New York Magazine, Chopsticks and Marrow, Chowhound, among others.
"We also have been featured in Globe Trotter by Jon Haggins - TV segment. Chowhound also has selected us as 'The Best New York Chowhound Find in 2013' on Jan 5," she said.
Since opening in May last year, Mamak Malaysia has attracted Royal diners, foreign dignitaries and celebrities, who brought a touch of fame and glamour to the restaurant.
Brought up in Georgetown, Nani developed an interest in Penang's authentic cuisine since she was 10.
It was romance that brought Nani to the Big Apple. Nani has been married for the last 10 years to a Barbados-born American nutritionist.
She is also the proud mother of two kids, a five-year old boy and a three-month old girl.
Nani said that running a restaurant was a tough business as it required a lot of hard work, planning and commitment.
"You need to develop the right attitude, promote the restaurant, keep an eye on the competition and communicate with your customers. And you have to perform all these tasks while you're cooking awesome food and providing top-notch service."
"It is tougher overseas, given the enormous challenges and obstacles that restaurateurs like me have to face. You really have to possess extraordinary strength to operate abroad," she said.
To stay competitive, she has to fully understand the stringent US procedures and laws and keep abreast of the latest developments.
Nani regularly uses the social media, such as Facebook and Twitter to promote her restaurant and stay connected with her friends and customers.- Bernama