Saturday, 12 April 2014

Interview with Ashling Cullen, Urbean, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Urbean, Avenue K
Ashling Cullen


Ashling Cullen, of Urbean fame, recently spared a few minutes to talk with The Yum List about the opening of her new cafe in Avenue K. 


What do you do and how did you get into the industry? 
I’ve recently opened a café called Urbean that’s located beside the KLCC LRT at Avenue K. I have loved the Food and Beverage industry from a young age. I started waitressing when I was 16 years old and I really enjoyed every aspect of the job – meeting new people, discovering different foods, and getting to know wines. 

What inspired you to open your own restaurant? 
I’ve always loved food and beverage but I think my passion grew whilst working in New York. I used to travel to the US in February and September each year for nearly 10 years to direct the shows during New York Fashion Week. There I got to work with some of the world’s most renowned designers like Marc Jacobs, Donna Karen, and Oscar de la Renta. While I love the fashion scene, my favourite part of my New York visit was checking out what cool new restaurants and bars had opened! My friends in New York would rely on me to show them what was happening in their own city on my visits as I would research each new place before I arrived in NYC and take them to the hottest new places. 

What's the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is seeing our customers enjoy the food and sharing positive feedback. I also love looking at photos posted by our customers on Instagram, where customers share their personal moments while in Urbean. I’ve seen photos of friends that are full of smiles while celebrating a birthday, and another where a group of friends are in tears as one is leaving the country. I feel really touched that some people make the choice to spend their special occasions in Urbean. That makes me realize that Urbean is more than just a place to eat.  


What's your personal favourite meal/ drink at Urbean?  
I’m a big fan of all the dishes on the Superfood menu, especially the Mediterranean Superfood Salad.  The Smoked Salmon Linguini with lemon crème fraiche is amazing too. The quality of our sandwiches is also very high. Many expats comment that Urbean is the only place you can get a ‘proper’ European sandwich.


Tell us a story about one of the dishes you prepare.
On my first date with my boyfriend Fergus, I made him look everywhere for a restaurant that served Huevos Rancheros. He couldn’t find a single place that made them so he asked a chef in his local restaurant to make them up especially for me. Now that we serve them at Urbean, I can have them every day!

The perfect day off would be... 
Café hopping through Melbourne or Singapore. This may take more than a day though! I love to explore new concepts and to keep up with trends that are happening in the restaurant and café scene. I think there are some really great cafés in KL too and it’s really great to see how much creativity is coming out of this city. 

A life in the day of a restaurateur is...
Very fulfilling. For me anyway! When a customer gets a good meal, you know that you have made them happy. And I get so many positive comments back on our food that it makes all our hard work worth it. Our menu is very much catered towards my taste in food, so it’s great to see others enjoying what I really like too. Being a restaurateur is also a lot harder than I expected it to be, there are so many elements that you need to get right. It can get quite stressful. I also hate to disappoint our customers so if something goes wrong, like their food is late or the order is made incorrectly, I take it very hard.   

What do you do for fun?
I think working in Urbean is fun which is a good thing! But outside of work, I love to travel and explore new places and get inspiration for future projects. I have about 10 restaurant concepts in my head so every time I travel, I get exposed to more and more ideas. I also like going to the gym and meeting with friends over a great bottle of wine. 

What's something you'd like guests to know about the cuisine/ drinks prepared at Urbean?
At Urbean we have a very wholesome menu with carefully selected ingredients. We make most of our food from scratch and nearly all of our dishes are made fresh to order. We don’t compromise on quality.  We love the coffee we serve by Common Man Coffee Roasters. It has notes of crème caramel and brown sugar and it’s incredibly smooth. Our handcrafted loose leaf teas and our premium hot chocolate are by Five Senses. The Spiced Chai Latte is definitely not to be missed. It’s so creamy and aromatic. I think it tastes like Christmas!! 
All of our home baked cakes are created by Sher Lynn who is the other owner of Urbean. She likes to get creative when it comes to baking and makes an amazing carrot cake and hummingbird cake.

How do you select your ingredients and why?
I have very high standards in what food I eat, so this is reflected in everything we choose, from the sourdough and walnut breads to the type of quinoa we use in our salads. We have quite a few gluten-free options on the menu because we feel that many health-conscious people are choosing to stay away from high gluten products. It took us 3 months to decide on a coffee brand after extensively researching suppliers throughout KL, Singapore and Australia. We really do take our food seriously.  

What's your view on the KL cafe scene?
It’s booming! But I also feel that a lot of restaurants are feeling the squeeze with the competition that has come up in the past two years. Malaysians have more choice than ever when it comes to choosing restaurants so their expectations have risen.  

What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months?
We held a coffee cupping event in February that went really well so we are hoping to host more events in Urbean. One will be a coffee and food pairing event which I will be excited to see.  You can keep an eye on our Facebook page for this event at www.facebook.com/urbeankl. We’ll also be refreshing our menu so there will be new food options to choose from. 

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