Three non-stop days of schmoozing with celebrity chefs and indulging your inner glutton. That should be on the itinerary of those who attend the first Kuala Lumpur Big Kitchen Festival.
Organised by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, KL’s long overdue foodie fest will take place at the iconic grounds of Merdeka Square.
Think food tastings, live entertainment, interactive demos and cooking workshops.
“We wanted to do something different,” said Noraza Yusof, DBKL’s head of tourism unit. “In KL alone, we’ve issued close to 7,000 licences for restaurants. The array of food we have here is astounding, yet we’ve never properly positioned the country as a gastronomic haven or food hub.”
To make up for lost time, she roped in the help of England-based, Penang-born chef Norman Musa last year. Malaysia’s very own culinary evangelist, Norman is the perfect guy for the task at hand. Having lived in Britain for almost 20 years, he was a first-hand witness to how underrated Malaysian food was abroad in comparison to its South-East Asian neighbours.
The pair wasted no time. They travelled to various international food fairs to see how it was done. They also ate their way around KL and Malaysia. The rest involved tirelessly Googling the Internet for any obscure eateries they might’ve missed along the way.
The result was Big Kitchen, KL’s – and not to mention Malaysia’s – very first large-scale food festival. With an aim to showcase Malaysia’s culinary diversity and seal our reputation as a South-East Asian food hub, the festival is a place where foodies, restaurateurs and chefs could meet, interact and learn over the span of one weekend.
Notable participants include local celebrity chefs Isadora Chai, Datuk Ismail Ahmad, Chef Wan, Malcolm Goh and Darren Chin as well as Scottish chef Will Meyrick, the judge of Top Chef Indonesia and owner of highly-acclaimed restaurant Mama San; Claire Ptak, the UK pastry chef to the stars; and Martin Yan, the made-for-TV Chinese-American chef.
There will also be a line-up of talks by experts like leading Indonesian food reviewer and TV presenter, Bondan Winarno, and Dr Hajlijah Ibrahim, professor at the Institute of Biological Sciences, Universiti Malaya.
Despite their much-anticipated presence, the culinary celebs would not overshadow the real star of Big Kitchen – the food. Where else can you find everything from gourmet food trucks to endangered Malaysian foods to bite-sized dishes from the likes of Nobu and Fuego for under RM10?
Dataran Merdeka, you see, will be transformed into a gigantic smorgasboard of culinary delights. Featuring more than 60 food stalls and 150 dishes from all over the country, Big Kitchen will be split into eight zones to include every facet of Malaysian cuisine.
There’s Negeri (specialty cuisine from different states), Warung (handpicked stalls that offer the country’s best street food fare), Manisan (sugary delights), Food Trucks (mobile eateries serving everything from fusion dishes to more traditional fare), Warisan (a demonstration of age-old Malaysian recipes and cooking techniques by the National Heritage Department), Samplings (food from the city’s five-star restaurants), The Dulang (a communal dining area) and The Mayor’s Courtyard (gourmet dining experiences with top chefs). All one requires is a single entry ticket and some food tokens, or “kupangs”, which can be purchased at the main entrance.
All the food will be halal, according to Norman. “This also means participants cannot cook with alcohol,” he added. “We want to push the boundaries of the chef, to see if it’s possible to come up with something that’s equally, if not more, delicious.”
This move, however, raises a few questions: How can Big Kitchen claim to represent Malaysian cuisine if it excludes a sizeable amount of foods and vendors just because they’re not halal? And how do we plan on attracting gastronomes from around the world when we’re so fixated on the "halal" tagline?
[pull_quote_left author=""]How can Big Kitchen claim to represent Malaysian cuisine if it excludes a sizeable amount of foods and vendors just because they’re not halal?[/pull_quote_left]
On the bright side, guests of all ages and culinary preferences can win gifts, cash prizes and bragging rights by participating in the three competitions that will be held in conjunction with the festival.
The KL Big Kitchen, Big Race is an Amazing Race-style cook-off, whereby participants need to acquire the necessary ingredients and cook a dish, all within a set time frame.
Meanwhile, amateur and professional mixologists can compete to see who can come up with the best drink in The KL Signature Mocktail Competition, while in the KL Signature Dish Competition, the race to create the most unique dish using local herbs and spices is on.
It is worth noting that Big Kitchen is part of the KL Tourism Masterplan. There are other plans in the pipeline to elevate KL’s F&B industry, revealed Noraza.
“We’ve come up with a restaurant rating system, where a group of anonymous diners will eat and rate their meals in 1,000 restaurants around KL. We will promote restaurants that do well overseas,” she says.
In the meantime, mark your calendars for this weekend!
The Kuala Lumpur Big Kitchen Festival will be held from May 29 to 31. For more information, visit www.klbigkitchen.com.
NEXT PAGE: Five questions with Chef Norman Musa
Five questions with Chef Norman Musa
1. Describe Big Kitchen in a few words.
Authentic, hygienic, delicious, unique.
2. Any must-dos for the festival?
If you enjoyed the food at the festival, you should head to the tuck shop where jars of purée are sold. These make great little souvenirs for family and friends who can’t make it to the event.
3. What do you think is the most underrated food in Malaysia?
Bubur lambuk (a type of rice porridge). It has a highly guarded recipe of more than a hundred years old and you can only get it during Ramadan.
4. Which local chef do you admire most?
My mum. She taught me how to cook with passion and love and she’s the reason I strive to constantly improve myself.
5. What’s the first thing you eat whenever you’re back?
So many. Dim sum in Mandarin Oriental. Nasi lemak Mak Wanjor in Kampung Baru. I try to avoid rice so I can eat more of other stuff! (laughs)
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