Food

Kita Food Festival: Why a chef-driven culinary event is so important now for Malaysia's dining scene


Dewakan's Darren Teoh spearheads Kita Food Festival, a chef-driven food and drink experience to help revive the dining scene in Malaysia. ― Picture courtesy of Kita Food Festival
Dewakan’s Darren Teoh spearheads Kita Food Festival, a chef-driven food and drink experience to help revive the dining scene in Malaysia. ― Picture courtesy of Kita Food Festival

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 ― This December, Malaysia will be seeing its first ever chef-driven food event with Kita Food Festival.

It gives our local dining scene which is slowly recovering from the lockdown a much-needed booster shot of confidence via camaraderie among the chefs and support from diners.

Spearheading the festival is Dewakan’s Darren Teoh, whom Malay Mail spoke to on why such a festival is needed now. The idea actually started almost two and half years ago.

The event to push for a livelier dining scene in Malaysia came from many discussions between Darren, food and travel journalist Leisa Tyler and Singapore-based wine enthusiast Julian Teoh. The trio had banded together over their shared passion for the Malaysian dining scene. 

Originally, as Darren explained, the event was to bring as many eyeballs as possible to focus the city. In addition, they wanted to curate a gourmet experience for the region, seeing how inter travel between Thailand and Singapore to visit each other’s restaurants was happening but Malaysia was excluded.

The country may draw people with their assam laksa, as seen in CNN’s World Best 50 foods list, but no one talked about the restaurants here. “We felt Malaysia has no presence in the world but only in street food,” said Darren.

The event hit a speed bump with Covid-19 hence it went into a hiatus until last year. It got an injection of life when they were given an opportunity to partner with Adrian Yap who runs Tiffin.

Darren feels now is the best time to do this. He added, “We wanted to build a community of Malaysian restaurants… to empower them. This would put the spotlight on things about Malaysian cuisine and inject life into the dining scene.”

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The event will see various chefs from Penang and Kuala Lumpur conduct collaboration events and masterclasses.

You can book various events and masterclasses running in December at Kita Food Festival. ― Picture courtesy of Kita Food Festival
You can book various events and masterclasses running in December at Kita Food Festival. ― Picture courtesy of Kita Food Festival

In the selection, they worked on a premise that these chefs contribute to the diversity of the country’s dining scene. Another pre-condition, Darren explained, was chefs who were mindful of sustainability of produce and connected to Malaysian produce. The final list was whittled down to those who could commit their time to this project.

What was also important with these collaborations was building relationships among these chefs. “Nothing builds that faster than when you’re side by side in a kitchen, working together to fulfil dinner service,” said Darren.

This creates a band of brothers (and sisters) who come together with a common goal to help heal the ailing food and beverage industry and tackle the issues within the dining scene.

According to Darren, with this solidarity, the community of chefs can become a stronger team to serve diners. 

With this festival, Darren also hopes to influence diners. “We hope to raise the sophistication of the diners and allow them to understand the cuisines,” said Darren.

Complementing the dining events is a broad spectrum of masterclasses that cover various cuisines from French to Orang Asli, drinks and dessert.

Teoh explained that these are designed to be intimate experiences, limited to only 12 people. Top of the list is an exclusive class by Cilantro Restaurant’s Takashi Kimura on French cuisine. It’s a rare opportunity to interact with the quiet but talented Kimura who is well known for his work at Cilantro.

Junglebird KL which is listed on Asia’s Best 50 Bars will also be shaking up cocktails with Nadodi and teaching masterclasses. You also get a chance to learn how to make zero proof cocktails and discover natural wines.

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You can book Kita Food Festival’s events on https://www.kitafoodfestival.com. Currently the Penang events are up for booking and the Kuala Lumpur ones will be opening up soon.



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