Wowed by Mulberry Restaurant and Bar's Christmas menu, The Yum List wanted to know more about the man behind the dishes. Here, Chef Rajesh Subramaniam shares will us a little of his history and some stories from behind the scenes.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
Currently, I am the Chef de Cuisine of Mulberry Restaurant and Bar. My grandmothers are of Indian and Chinese heritage on my mum’s side. They are the most passionate and flamboyant cooks I know. Since I was a little boy, for as long as I could ever remember, I have always loved food! I am constantly fascinated and mesmerized by the sounds, aromas, action and the end product that comes out from any kitchen. After completing my high school, my dad wanted to enrol me in a local University to take up a law degree. I declined politely, saying to him that I have always wanted to pursue the career of being a profesional chef. He accepted my dream, gave the green light and then got me enrolled at the Pan Pacific Hotel as a trainee under their pioneer apprenticeship program. And so the journey of a cullinary magic began...
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes?
When I was an 18 year old rugged commis working long grueling hours in the hotel’s main kitchen... we were handling food for an UMNO delegate meeting for 20,000 pax for the Putra World Trade Center. It was really hectic! We worked 18- 20 hours straight a day for 3 days.
It was almost 10pm and most of the food we served ran out. The Head chef hastily brought out 30 fresh chickens and ordered me to cut them to be prepared for replenishing. I was doing pretty well till bird number 26 when I accidentally severed my fingers quite badly. The pain was horendous and my blood was gushing out everywhere. I then took the thickest masking tape I could find and with the help of my best buddy Bala, I instructed him to bind it as tightly as possible. Took a cab and headed more than half an hour to a nearby clinic where I was living.
The young relief doctor for the night opened my binding and nearly fainted. Despite me being the patient, it was me who kept asking him to calm down. I asked him if he is good at stitches? He said yes but was trembling and shaky when he was about to inject me with a dose of anesthetic. Me being impatient, in pain and also an avid Rambo fan, told him to just stitch the damn fingers without any jabs of anesthetics. And surprisingly, he did a good job. In the end it was all good but the incident is something I will never forget.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
Everything is incredibly fabulous in this job. There are no limitations to potray your skills and knowledge. Whether it is in the restaurant, competitions, TV, magazines and etc. You can even have the chance to explore the world. The unfavourable part is you have to work odd hours, on designated public holidays, miss family gatherings etc. And the worst situation is facing break ups with the girls whom you are going out with or have been married to. Especially when they simply fail to understand the nature of your job and requirements. It happens quite often in every kitchen and it hurts to see your comrades somehow still managing to put on a positive attitude towards work but suffering deep inside in silence. That's like drinking a glass of wine which unknowingly has turned into vinegar.
What’s your personal favourite meal at Mulberry?
Definetely the moist and flavoursome grilled chicken tandoori skewers with mint chutney, cucumber and onion raita accomnpanied by a plain freshly baked pizza bread. We have managed to add a few more extra spices and indgredients to further enhance the chicken for that extra zing. Not too heavy and not too light... just fresh, tantalizing and perfect!!
Tell us a story about one of the dishes you have prepared?
When I was working at Frangipani, the chef, my mentor Chris Bauer (currently the brains of Cantaloupe) told me that one day we should try creating a dish with oysters and chocolates for Valentines. I asked him if it's even possible? And he replied, well... there is only one way to find out. But unfortunately, the day of reckoning did not materialize. But the idea kept playing in my head ever since. So, when I was heading the Carat Club, I decided to make that dream come true for Valentines despite the risk. After a string of evaluations on details, I flash smoked the plump Fin de Claire oyster with cumin. Perched it on a bed of freshly diced scallops, strawberries, pomegranate and a hint of thyme to form a tartare at the base of its shell. I then covered the shell where the oyster and tartare is resting by using a flat thin dark chocolate piece to be lightly melted at room temperature. Finally, I topped the chocolate with a champagne and grenadine jelly and a tiny dollop of servruga caviar. The result was mind blowing... judging by the positive responses of the guests that night. Some of them were the chefs from the Marriot Midsummers Food Festival that year. It was indeed possible! The secret was balance, harmony and respect of each indgredients without overpowering each other. This dish taught me a lot about balance and infinite possibilities that day and, it still does today in every dish I create.
What’s one of the scariest things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
The craziest, scariest thing is when we were starting our so called promising career 20 odd years ago. It was completely a different experience and ball game back then.We would be screamed at, verbally abused and yelled at all the time for the slightless mistakes with vulgarities and without mercy or compassion. We would be completely stripped of our egos, pride and sense of belonging. My batch and I felt so emotionally bruised and humilated back then. Despite the experience being a very unpleasant nightmare, I believe it has molded us to be the chefs we are today - especially in terms of productivity and efficiency. Today I strongly don't agree with this approach of treating a person in such a horrible manner. I think of it as a dark episode of my career. Now, being the head of department, I treat my staff with patience, respect, empowerment and equality. Unless, it is a ridiculous or constantly repeated inessential mistake, I try my best not to throw tantrums and resolve matters in a more diplomatic way. After all we are all just human beings serving fellow humans. And more importantly, it takes a lot of love to prepare something delightful.
The perfect day off would be...
Most definitely being with the woman whom I love so dearly. The perfect day off will be spending quality time with her. Whether it's having a good bottle of prosecco or wine while chatting, having dinner, sightseeing, catching a movie, visiting the mall for shopping, a drive to nowhere or even just being lazy by watching some TV with her is blissful. Being with this wonderful woman, who without a doubt, is constantly supportive, understanding and who completes me in every way is truly a blessing. Being able to see the smile and happiness on her face is just a priceless day off.
A life in the day of a chef is...
... always full of suprises and like a well-trained soldier waiting for the call of duty.
What’s something you’d like guest to know about the cuisine prepared at Mulberry?
Mulberry serves both worlds of western and local cuisine. Its all about flavour. The cuisine here is pretty simple and fuss free but worth every dime as the portions are quite generous. The food is crafted and prepared specially with the comfort of the diners on mind for any occasions.
How would you select your ingredients and why?
Fresh is the key word! Definitely the freshest ingredients and at it’s peak. And possibly not anything frozen. The handling from the farm to kitchen also plays a crucial part. You nearly don’t have to do anything much to them. If it's fresh, you can hear them speak volumes about the soil, climate and water they have lived by... and the smell of the seas will unveil paradise to the palate.
What’s your view on the KL restaurant and bar scene?
There are plenty of good restaurants and bars mushrooming around town. It has turned into a rat race out there. Everywhere is quite stylish with the ambience but it has been more or less quite stagnant with the food and drinks offered for sometime now. We as chefs, and everyone in the Food and Beverage industry should be pushing the limits of creativity and start thinking out of the box. What I have noticed lately, is that it’s all about proper marketing and social media hype. It is vital to have a fantastic marketing team to create awareness and arouse the curiosity of products offered by the establishment. We are designed to be a curious lot after all.
What can guest look forward to in the upcoming months?
We have already started our weekly chef’s specials. In this we feature two off-the-menu dishes that showcase a combination of flavours and textures through varied ingredients. This, coupled with our wine of the month, is priced at an affordable rate of RM90++ per bottle or RM20++ per glass. Our Jazz Band every Saturday night is a nice setting for a relaxing evening out.