Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

IWFS Nyonya Cuisine with Chef Debbie Teoh - fantastic!

Spring Roll canapes - excellent with the Cava!
March 21st 2018 - Many of the IWFS members are great fans of Nyonya style cuisine. But there is always a problem with trying to organise Nyonya dinners in that those restaurants that specialise in this style are generally small in size and not really able to take the numbers that the IWFS requires for an event. Same with glassware - one should not serve fine wine in a small goblet style glass, and the IWFS has now taken to hiring glasses for events where there may be a question mark over the glasses. Though bringing glasses does not solve the problem of trying to quickly organise and train the staff in storing and pouring what wines and when - attempts to do so have proven perennially unsuccessful. And both chef and kitchen generally cannot do 40 plus covers at the same time and get them hot to the tables. None of this is intended as criticism - just an observation of the way that these things generally pan out. Small places cannot cater to large numbers of people with above average expectations such as harboured by the IWFS. 

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Selamat Datang!
So when Nyonya Chef Debbie Teoh got introduced to the IWFS by Doc Wine and Doc Words almost five years to the day and cooked up a storm, it was like many prayers had been answered - authentic Nyonya cuisine prepared and served in a classic restaurant setting (The Park Royal Grill) with well tasty wines in good glassware. Click here to read my report on that one>>

Where's that extra glass of Cava you promised, eh?
The IWFS did a second gig with Chef Debbie at the Grand Seasons Hotel about three years back (which I could not attend) at which there were some apparent service shortcomings. So it was with a little trepidation that a third round with Chef Debbie at the Grand Seasons was organised for the March event. Would it be a repeat? Not a lot of confidence was being shown except by President David who assured that the staff were a lot better now than previous - seems he does lunch there quite often with the Rotary. 

Yeah, where is it? We decked out special for it, we did... 
The notice informing all members of the event began with President wishing all of the members "Gong Xi Fatt Choy" and with a hope that the new Year of the Dog would be healthy, harmonious and prosperous for everyone, and not have the members barking up wrong trees or at each other. The notice then advised that the IWFS KL would once again invite Celebrity Chef Debbie Teoh to take over the Grand Seasons Hotel kitchen to prepare her traditional Nyonya cuisine delights for the delectation of the Rakyat, with wines being selected to pair by the Wine Doctor Stephen Hall. It also noted that Debbie previously did for the IWFS KL at the Park Royal in March 2013 and at the Grand Seasons itself in March 2015. Must be something about March that brings out the Nyonya itch. Suggested dress code was smart casual, though anyone getting dressed in traditional Baba Nyonya or classic Chinese/Malay styles was promised an extra glass of the Cava being served. 

Dr Su Kim making mischief!!
This would also be one of our Doc Wine's last matchings. He was recently been appointed Dean at the University to which he is attached, with the result that he had to reluctantly resign his position on Committee given his increased responsibilities. Fair enough - something has to give when the pile on the desk gets higher. Though I don't think it will impede him drinking and writing about his wine too much.  He is a professional. 


Celebrity Chef Debbie Teoh is a Peranakan celebrity chef with almost two decades of experience in the food industry. Chef Debbie's background is a blend of both the Northern and the Southern Peranakan - her Nyonya mother from Penang and her Baba father from Malacca.

Chef Debbie is the author of numerous cookbooks including: ‘Debbie Teoh’s Favourite Recipes’, ‘Under Wraps’ and 'Asian Tidbits' (Marshall Cavendish),  ‘Penang Food Guide & Cookbook’ and ‘Nyonya Flavours’ (Star Publications) and 'Authentic Nyonya Taste' and '100 Canned Recipes' (Nanyang Press). 

Ju Hu Jar with Chicken, Mushroom
and Sambal
Highly regarded as a genuine exponent of this unique cuisine, Chef Debbie is a Nyonya Food Consultant for Tourism Malaysia, a restaurant consultant, and a regular contributor to various Food Magazines. She has represented the Peranakan Heritage at the Slow Food Conference & Terra Madre Show in Turin, Italy, and was recently onstage with Celebrity Chefs Nicholas Tse (Hong Kong) and Chef David Rocco (Canada) at the media launch of "Celebrity Chef Wars East vs West" premiering in March 2018.

Chef Debbie also develops and tests recipes for companies, conducts cooking classes, and cooks for private functions such as ours. Chef is clearly a very busy lady! And massively talented in the kitchen. And (without wishing in any way to come across as chauvinistic) hugely cute to boot. Contact is 


Famed for its distinctiveness and multiculturalism, Nyonya cuisine is marked by its use of fresh ingredients, labour-intensive preparation, communalism in preparation and emphasis on genteelness and perfection. In the past, recipes were never written down, but were passed on in the kitchen. Nyonyas were trained by their mothers to excel in culinary skills if they wanted to become good homemakers. Today, the real quality still thrives in the domestic kitchen. 

Otak-Otak with bread - ho chiak hor...
The cuisine of the Peranakan community is a true fusion cuisine, marrying Chinese, South-East Asian and European elements.  The heritage goes back 700 years when Chinese traders travelled and sojourned in Malacca where they married the local women and lived a localised way of life. 

Itek Tim soup - Brandy was added. Yes.
Nyonya cuisine is delicious and unique, with an incredible repertoire of seafood and meat dishes, salads, sambals, curries, appetisers, soups, sweets, broths, and desserts. Many of the ingredients used such as ginger flower, lemon grass, kaffir lime, pandan, galangal, bird’s eye chilly and wild pepper leaves are grown in the garden. It is at once spicy, sour, sweet, zesty and piquant, and often requiring huge amounts of time to prepare and create.  

Fish curry, prawn salad and the Ayam Keluak Buah - awesomely good!!
The promise of an extra glass for members turning out in Baba Nyonya dress was clearly attractive - pretty much everyone of the fifty one attendees were decked out in Batik or starched shirt, and Kebaya, and all with outstretched hands demanding their fizz. We heard a huge amount of noise as we entered - the conversation was flowing as fast as the Cava and everyone seemed clearly in the mood for a fun night. 

Penang jelly with Calamansi - superb!!
Which it would indeed turn out to be. The horror stories of the previous time here quickly evaporated as glasses kept getting refilled and everyone complimenting each other's costumes and frocks. Service of both food and wine through the night would prove efficient and friendly and generous, with all wines being served in their sequence and in glasses that IWFS had hired for the night. The food was indeed cheek pique-ingly exquisite and filling, though one criticism was that some of the Otak-Otak was a bit underdone. Mine was fine. Star for me was the Ayam Buah Keluak. This is curried chicken in sauce with the added taste of the black nut (actually a seed) Buah Keluak, which is indigenous to South-East Asia and can also be found across the Pacific Islands. The preparation first requires a hole to be dug into the nut to extract the black oily paste content. This is then seasoned and spooned back into the nut before joining the chicken in the curry. The taste is one of smoke, earth and musk though pretty much beyond description but is one that will stay with you - I still recall the first taste in the Park Royal six years previously. Some label it the truffle of the East. And with good reason - it can be hugely addictive. I quickly scarfed those on the plate and souvenired those left over by friends and neighbours. You don't get it often because it is so labour intensive in its preparation. Couple this with Chef Debbie's deft touch in the spice department and one becomes a total hog. Mixed with a dab of white rice - phwooooarghhhhhhh... finestkind. 

Our table of pilgrims
And the dessert managed to break through the usual nonchalance with which I normally greet them. The Calamansi juice and jelly were a huge revelation - the combo of sour lime and gunge and crushed ice was a taste of Ambrosia and Honeydew. Like a citrus palate cleanser but with a wonderfully sweet cheek tickle and throat rasp. Absolute brahma. Om. 

The Four Horsemen of Bacchus
The wines managed to go hugely well with the food, and all credit to excellent choices made by The Wine Doc. The starter Cava was an old friend and still tasting like fireworks; the Tralcetto was better than I remember; this showing saw a decent mouth of apricot with a hit of oil and low acidity to give a nice chewy texture yet still tame the mild spice burn on the sambal belachan and Ju Hu (juju?) Char. The Wine Doc is an advocate for letting some white wines age and had been raving about the aged Semillon we would be having for the few weeks prior to the dinner.  This one was lovely - mellow, sweetish, but still potent in fruit and powerful in finish. very silky and a brilliant partner to Chef Debbie's Otak-Otak.

The Ladies in their best Baju - ho leng!
And the Kanonkop to finish with the mains was a darling - full lush fruit, cassis and dark forest berries, vim and fire and toast in the mouth and velvet on the finish. Total gangbusters with the smoke and earth of the Buah. This was sadly the last in the cellar. One pilgrim asked the Wine Doc where to get some - Wine Doc wished him luck. 

President David, Chef Debbie and the Grand Seasons staff take a bow
But the real star of the night was Dr Lee Su Kim, author of the highly acclaimed "Manek Mischiefs" short story collection on Nyonya life, who started the fun with a "performance reading" of one of her stories. It was the perfect way to set the tone for the evening, and our own Doc Words turned in an excellent performance of the three wives in the story. Couple of microphone issues but cordless handhelds can do that to anyone. Serious multiple personalities here from the Doc, and cute quick costume changes as well. Bravo! 

In all, a hugely fun evening where everything pleasantly surprised on the upside - service, food, ambience - and the Manek Mischief tale was delightful. Would happily return to a Chef Debbie event here on this showing. There is a deftness of touch to Chef Debbie's preparations that raise it far higher than many Nyonya outlets I have visited - they all seek to whack the sambal on everything to the point of overload which I find...  too much heat. The Cuisine of this night was light fire and light spice that tickled and tantalised rather than beat you round the head with a sambal stick. Seems also that the Indian Cuisine of the Grand Seasons is pretty good - Lenglui and I have resolved to try it some time. With a bottle of something light, spicy and white. Naturally. Cheers!

A sweet finish - Nyonya Kuih
Mula Suka Hati (amuse bouche!)
Nyonya Canapes

Ju hu char with chicken fillet, dried cuttlefish, Chinese mushroom 
served with sambal belachan on the side

Itek Tim with salted preserved vege, Chinese mushroom and brandy 

Otak-otak with kurau fish, prawn and squid
Served with baguette

Perut ikan 
Kerabu sayur paku 
Ayam buah keluak

Served with steamed white rice

Penang 'or gio' jelly with kalamansi zest and kalamansi syrup

The wines
Vallformosa Cava Classic Brut N.V 
Made from the traditional Cava grape varieties of Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada by a family-owned winery. The winery was established in 1865 at Vilobí del Penedès, southwest of Barcelona in the heart of the Cava D.O. appellation. While yeasty and citric on the nose, this Cava delivers long white-stone fruit notes. A great aperitif.

Tralcetto Il Bianco Di Ciccio, Cantin Zaccagni  2014     
This northern Italian blend of 80 percent Trebbiano and 20 percent Chardonnay has a pleasant intriguing bouquet which leads into an harmonious citric style. From a family owned enterprise which has expanded rapidly over the last two decades.

Pertaringa Bonfire Block Sémillon  2010 
Lemony sémillon may be well known as a noble grape, the basis of great sweet wines, but when less opulent it can be made as an Australian dry wine with great aging potential. The very experienced Geoff Hardy crafts this excellent McLaren Vale vintage. When tasting in 2017, James Halliday rated it as a 91 pointer, noting that an addition of some French oak makes for added weight in this wine which is in its mature drinking window. The wine will be out of its close-down 3-6 years sullenness and offer us a rare chance to enjoy mature sémillon cellared by the Society. 

Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Stellenbosch 2007
A Bordeaux blend as the South Africans would say, and in 2007 the blend was 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. The late owner Paul Sauer and his successors set fine Bordeaux as the benchmark, while Platters Wine Guide (the guide for Springbok wines) rates this vintage as 4.5 out of 5. Given the age of this vintage, we may need to give it some breathing space in the glass if we can be patient. Complex and brooding wine which is ready to enjoy now. Gold Medal Winner, International Wine and Spirit Competition, Stephen Tanzer 92 points, Wine Enthusiast 91 points.

Thank you to Dr Stephen J Hall for the wine notes. Most of the Photos are by kind courtesy of David Teh from the IWFSKL Facebook page. And some photos are from me.

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