The Yum List chats with Sherena Razaly about owning one of the only elegant dining Malay restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.
What do you do, and how did you get into the industry?
I am a restaurateur, with Enak KL, which I affectionately refer to as "KL's premier Malay fine dining restaurant". I originally started out as an architect and project manager, which I wouldn't have thought had prepared me for being in the Food and Beverage industry but it did (more on that later).
My mother especially, is amazing in the kitchen. What comes out of her kitchen can make your heart sing! And, from the time I was a little girl (believe me, that was a long while ago) I remember so many people telling my parents that there really is no place to go for good Malay food, so they had to wait 'till they could come to my parents house! As time went on, this lack of good Malay restaurants became worse, because now that my father was entertaining international guests, we would need to bring out the good China and silverware, my mother would cook up a storm in the kitchen and my sister and I would have to be on our very best behaviour!
By the time I graduated from studying architecture in 2000, the problem was acute! I started my working life in my father's architectural firm, shadowing him to learn about how to manage architectural projects as well as function as a project manager.
It all came to a head in 2004! My father heard about Starhill Gallery intending to do a major rebranding, starting with an entire floor of fine dining restaurants. He contacted Tan Sri Francis Yeoh (whom he knew professionally) to enquire more, and next thing we knew, my father and I were attending a briefing about the development of the 'new' Starhill Gallery. The rest, is as they say, history.
Enak KL opened our doors in mid 2005 in the Feast Floor, and we have been here ever since.
Mind you, we started out with ZERO food and beverage knowledge, other than knowing what we liked and disliked as diners in fine dining restaurants. So we made mistakes, a lot of mistakes, but we learn and we move on!
What's the best/worst part of your job?
The WORST part of my job is having to taste the food we serve at least once a month (hmmm, well actually that could be the BEST thing too). As at 2009, I had managed to pile on a whopping 20kg!!! I needed a whole new wardrobe! Thankfully I have managed to stop the weight gain since then, and am working on losing the extra pounds. Its tough though, cos I still have to keep on tasting the food. Sigh (licks lips).
What's the best thing about owning Enak KL?
The opportunity to develop young minds. Generally, the rank and file in the industry are fresh out of school or have worked random jobs. Few take working in KL as a calling. I like to develop these young ones and see what we can do with them. Once, we had a b-boy work for us as a waiter. He had red chunky highlights in his very messy hair, wore a dog collar and studded cuffs on his wrists. I won't even begin to describe what he wears on a daily basis before putting on his uniform! We worked on developing this young man, focusing on his appearance (that was such an uphill battle) and the way he talked and his body language. Eventually, we got him to see the benefits of changing his behaviour (while on duty that is). The highlight was when he started out-performing EVERYBODY else in the Team and scored highest in the Comment Cards. This young man worked for us for about a year only, but I remember him fondly. I recently met up with him - he has a thriving business at Low Yat Plaza selling laptops. He describes it as hard work, and credits the emphasis on discipline and focus during his time at Enak KL as a major learning experience and a huge contributor to his success today! How is that for giving me a lovely warm, fuzzy feeling? We did good with this young man :-)
What's your favourite meal/drink at Enak KL?
Balla-Balla + Kari Ayam + Telur Goreng + Nasi Briyani - can't be beat… all those yummy flavours at one time!
What's your favoured food and coffee pairing?
To be honest, am not much of a coffee drinker. Now if you had said food and teh tarik pairing, that's different. In which case, my answer would be teh tarik and pisang goreng. But not just any pisang goreng - the one served by Enak KL. Its lovely and crunchy! Ditto teh tarik, 'cos Enak KL's version is a blend of teas and we brew it ourselves making it less sweet.
Tell us a story about on of the drinks you prepare?
He he, I'm so glad you asked! We have a selection of signature mocktails, the recipes were created in house. We had the best time during the tasting sessions, 'cos the barmen lined up all the drinks on the bar counter, and we tasted each and every one of them. Everybody got to taste and give their opinion. We narrowed them down to just six recipes, then we had the fun of naming them. We didn't want to serve virgin colada's or virgin mary's or virgin anything - so boring and predictable! So we came up with names like Caipiminto, Citrussy Slide, Step On The Grass, Date Nectar and Pineapple Ambrosia. Unfortunately, the latter two are no longer on our beverage menu and have been replaced by the likes of Rose-Teani and Smashing Three. Like I said, we had loads of fun naming the drinks.
The perfect day off would be ...
Waking up late, say 10am, followed by a long leisurely shower. A cooked breakfast (sausages, hash browns, eggs sunny side up, baked beans) and a Starbucks coffee while curled up on one of the sofas in Starbucks with a GOOD BOOK! Afternoon tea later with the girls. Home to a yummy steak dinner with roast potatoes cooked by hubby.
A life in the day of a restauranteur is ...
On a good day, I get into work between 11am to 12noon. If I have a meeting scheduled, then I will definitely be in by 11am. A quick spot-check to see if the table settings are complete for all tables in the dining area. Then I go through my list of things to do that day (I plan out all the things to do each day - it's a list I prepare at the end of each week in preparation for the coming week) and get it done. In between, I will have short discussions with different members of my team, as and when necessary. I am currently in the process of giving additional training to the senior members of the team as I will be on maternity leave in April 2014 and they have to learn how to get by without me). Meetings as and when scheduled throughout the day. Meals are generally ordered from the Enak KL kitchen and eaten at my desk, so it's a quick five minute break. The earliest I leave work is 8pm, and that is only if I don't have any events to attend in the evening. Most of the time I leave about 9-9.30pm. I order take away from the Enak KL kitchen to take home for supper with hubby.
How do you select your ingredients and why?
My mother is THE authority on who our suppliers shall be! Generally, she approves our suppliers personally, as she will have used them before for her own kitchen at home. For suppliers which are not personally known to her, then the samples need to approved by her personally before they can become an official supplier of Enak KL. Mum will approve suppliers and their samples based on the quality of the ingredients they supply… It is curious how many suppliers we do have. Some only supply one or two items only but provide very good and/or very difficult to find ingredients.
What's your view on the KL restaurant scene?
It's fantastic! New restaurants are mushrooming everywhere - creates a lovely environment of choice for the diners. I have a long list of new restaurants that I want to go try out, but am having trouble finding the time. So many new restaurants, so little time… Thankfully very few of the new restaurants are Malay or Malay fine dining so Enak KL's position is the fine dining market is still relatively secure :-)
What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?
Enak KL's new ala carte menu will be launched in January 2014. We are making changes to the menu, taking out some of the old ones and bringing in new ones. We are adding in more lamb dishes to the menu, and more additions to just about every section of the menu. But since we do have regulars who have their favourites, in the kitchen we will have a list of some of the regular's favourites which the kitchen will be able to prepare in a specified amount of time, if that particular dish is no longer on the ala carte menu.
See what dishes and drinks come highly recommended at Enak KL by following this link.