Reaching for the Michelin star
Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 28 March 2017)
JORDAN Alexis Yap keeps with him a book which isn’t just any diary, but a record of his adventures with new ingredients, cooking techniques, as well as different managerial styles and standard operating procedures – absorbing all the intellect he needs to one day open his own restaurant.
“People don’t understand the difference between a cook and a chef. A cook is by his name – he comes to work, cooks, and at the end of the day, gets his salary. For chefs, salary is our second priority. Our first priority is our passion.
“As chefs, we don’t just cook. We do everything it takes to keep the kitchen and restaurant running; from planning the menu, managing the inventory, training staff, down to pairing wine and sourcing ingredients,” said Yap.
Every single day is a step closer to attaining his own restaurant, and Yap believes he cannot waste too much time being stagnant in one place. Currently the executive chef at the newly opened Upperhouse Kitchen and Dessert Bar in Bangsar, Yap is gaining all the necessary knowledge in his transitions from one restaurant to another.
“What we are doing here is modern cuisine. There is nothing old school about our food. When it comes down to flavour and plating, we are topnotch in following trends. We are taking comfort food and upscaling it; no fancy ingredients, but it gives value for money and will make your stomach happy,” said the 22-year-old.
Why a chef?
When I was nine, my twin brother and I played around with ingredients and attempted to cook because our mum was not home. For us, it was really fun and that is when it started off. We told mum of our interest and she sent us to amateur cooking classes.
Then it reached a stage where we could enter competitions, and that was when my brother and I competed as a team. We didn’t get to the top three until we reached form five when we won one of the competitions.
What are the ‘ingredients’ of a good chef?
Perseverance – if you cannot handle stress and fast-paced environments, this isn’t the line for you. Chefs only get one day off – sometimes none – and we work more than 12 hours a day. To push through all of this, you need to have passion and perseverance.
Other important aspects for a chef are knowledge and experience. Your product knowledge must be the best. If you don’t know your product, then you are just a cook. Your basics are your foundation; with it you can shoot towards where you want to go. To master the basics, practise everyday.
Name the essence of a dish.
Don’t forget that we eat with our five senses. First thing when a plate comes to you is the sense of sight, second is the sense of smell, third is the sense of touch, fourth is the sense of taste and texture, and the last part which most people don’t know is the taste of umami (translated from Japanese as “a pleasant savoury taste”).
How do you measure career fulfilment?
This I only have one answer: customers’ smile. When you put your heart into a dish, and people praise you for it, automatically you’ll have this insane satisfaction, especially for a chef. When I create a dish I like, there is this tingle of ecstasy and it is really exciting, especially when customers love it.
Last but not least, what are your professional goal(s)?
I am going to work with my brother on our future restaurant, and create a type of cuisine involving Italian, French, Japanese, and Korean fare.
Everyone aims for a Michelin star, and that is our ultimate goal. Malaysia doesn’t have its own Michelin-starred restaurant yet because no one has taken the extreme step to do it. To attain a Michelin star is not impossible, but the possibility of failure is high. Michelin is all about the perfection of your cuisine. We just need one chance to prove ourselves.
Comfort food: Pasta.
Most important tools: His hands and chef’s knife.
Favourite spices: Cumin and cayenne pepper.
Perfect way to relax: Fishing by the beach with a pint of beer and a loved one.
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