KUCHING: It is undeniable that Kuching’s gastronomic scene is very much built upon the kopitiam (traditional coffeeshop) culture, with most locals able to whip out a list of their favourite foodie haunts at a moment’s notice.
However, sometimes it does not hurt to spice up the comfort zone a little — literally and figuratively. Homegrown chef Hazel Tang hopes to do just that.
After training and working and in Singapore, she has returned to Kuching and created FED — a series of pop-up dinners and food-themed parties.
While her pop-up dinners feature elevated flavours and well-conceived menus with concepts such as modern Asian and rustic comfort French, her food-themed parties offer comfort food with a twist.
One thing is for sure — her diners always leave well-fed.
“I love kopitiams! But the one thing about Kuching is there is usually a place that is good for food, and another that is good for drinks, and so on.
“Why are there so few places here which have everything in one package — good for food, ambience, and hang-outs?” she questioned.
She said that Kuchingites loved to eat, but she aimed to elevate this and inject something more into the food scene here.
“I want to provide a space where you can come and eat, converse, try new things, and connect with other people not just within their usual circles,” she explained, believing that food should be a form of connection between people.
Of Tang and FED
Having finished her culinary training at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, Tang then worked in Singapore for almost eight years. Her most recent position was at Burnt Ends, a one-Michelin-starred restaurant there.
Upon returning to her hometown Kuching about five months ago, she created FED.
“It was always my long-term goal to come back. I felt like I wanted to do something in Kuching; there is a lot of potential here,” she said.
She said that one of the main reasons behind starting FED with its pop-up series nature was to find her own personal culinary style.
Tang explained that throughout her eight-year career, she had been working at restaurants cooking menus designed by others.
“It is now time to figure out what flavours I prefer. So far, I’ve realised that I’m leaning towards Asian flavours. I think it is because it’s like comfort food to me, but I do want to elevate it even more,” she said.
Elaborating, she said she wanted to create a sense of nostalgia through her food; perhaps reminding the diner of a certain memory from their childhood.
“There can be progression in food and this can be done with local food as well. Kuchingites will definitely always stand by their kolo mee and laksa, but it is good to give them something different from time to time,” she said.
To her, just the word ‘fed’ has warm connotations to it. “People can come here to be fed, and they leave well-fed.”
FED’s first official event was the 4 Hands dinner which offered a three-course menu with three options from her and another three from her ex-colleague Yvette Lin, a sous chef at Burnt Ends who had flown into Kuching to collaborate with her.
Tang’s goal is to throw a tasting dinner or a food-themed party about once a month, with food-themed parties being open to the public while tasting dinners involved bookings for sit-down courses.
She said she wanted to give people options, adding that she hoped she would be able to garner support and continue these efforts.
Yu Tiao Party — a food-themed party
One of Tang’s recent food-themed parties was the Yu Tiao Party held near the end of January, just before Chinese New Year.
She said that Yu Tiao Party was actually in part inspired by her mother, who had a yu tiao franchise previously with five outlets in Kuching.
She figured that this would be the perfect theme to kick start the festive season, what with yu tiaos being a predominantly Chinese delicacy.
“So, we did yu tiao, with a twist — though we did have the OG on the menu, just a plain yu tiao, and people still came for that and had it with their coffee,” she remarked.
She said initially she was unsure if patrons would be willing to try the other yu tiaos which she had innovated with fillings, but she was certainly glad when they were game.
“Kuching is definitely getting more open to trying different things now; it just needs a little push,” Tang said with a chuckle.
Among the popular offerings of the Yu Tiao Party menu was ‘Marmalade’ — a yu tiao stuffed with smoked beef, garlic aioli, mozzarella, and pickles. Those with an inclination for sweet treats tended towards the ‘Plain Ol’ Kaya’ — a yu tiao topped with homemade pandan custard.
From pop-ups to a restaurant
Tang has plans to open a fully-fledged restaurant in the next year or two, but for now she does not want to root herself down just yet.
First, she wants to be able to connect and discover what locals are doing in terms of the food scene.
“With this series, I’ll hopefully be able to do collaborations with existing ventures here,” she said.
Through FED, she added that she was also sourcing for staff members who had a passion for this industry.
“I want to work with people who sincerely care about food. This is also a platform for people who are interested in the food and beverage industry to do something here, rather than having to fly elsewhere to gain the experience,” she said.
“It is a tough industry. So, you might as well love what you are doing,” she remarked with a smile.
FED can be found on Facebook and Instagram under @dinewithfed.