Culinary Heirloom Dinner delights diners with unique combination of traditional, contemporary Dalat Melanau dishes

Chefs Alex of Kyujin Kuching (right) and Jack speaking about the dishes featured on the menu at the recent Culinary Heirloom Dinners held at Kyujin Kuching.

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, April 21: The recent Culinary Heirloom Dinner at Kyujin here was a unique and bold sharing of sumptuous traditional and contemporary Dalat Melanau dishes prepared using ingredients from the area in Sarawak by chefs Alex Ting of Kyujin and Jack Owens.

The two chefs combined their total of more than 25 years of experience in culinary techniques and know-how to produce an 8-course dinner featuring appetizers, starters, a main course and desserts.

The Culinary Heirloom Dinner Menu featured an 8-course dinner using traditional and contemporary ingredients from the Dalat area.

Commenting on the dishes served, Alex who has more than 15 years of culinary experience told DayakDaily that his inspiration for the menu came from Melanau traditional dishes in Dalat.

“I will call it in layman’s terms now as modern food and dishes as I always seek different methods to prepare or improve the preparation of food, by using both traditional and modern techniques.

“The way I look at it, traditional Melanau food from Dalat has changed quite significantly over time. A lot of the preparation and details has fallen out of use, such as the way of preserving their food,” he explained.

—Iban beef shank stew

Alex highlighted further that for the menu, he attempted to recreate exactly what is used in culinary dishes by the Dalat Melanau and other ethnic communities such as the Iban and Chinese, and where necessary, he worked around ingredients that are not used or do not exist in the region to re-create the dish.

“Of course, I had different arrangements from the seasoning to the cooking technique,” he elaborated.

However, Alex said overall that evening he was glad to have the opportunity to look into the local ingredients used in the area that many did not have much knowledge of at all, such as the differences between ‘sago’ and ‘sago benyuk’, which raised his awareness of the complexity of local ingredients.

Wagyu Brisket

Meanwhile, Jack, who is a Melanau and has more than 10 years of culinary experience, said that one of the dishes he contributed that night was a dish he ate during his childhood that was prepared by his grandmother, mother, and aunt.

“It is how I remember these three ladies in my culinary life and how they would have made it,” he reminisced.

“For that, we named the first part of the dinner menu dish “Berabeh” reflecting a family gathering.”

On the rest of the menu, Jack highlighted that he complemented Alex with his proposal for the contemporary dishes and later finetuned it for diners.

He cited the ‘Teramau’ as an example, which in its original form is meat stewed with lemongrass and ginger only, poured into a bowl of sago pearls.

“But in the Teramau dish that night, we brought the palatable flavour of the Dalat Iban pansuh, as the influence from their cooking is common in our Melanau community nowadays. That’s how we relate the dish.

“For the Chinese, it was related through the ‘kuih sepit’ or Chinese wafer with sesame seeds which started as a Melanau snack as far as I know, which eventually made it into Chinese culture.

“The contemporary ‘umai’ or raw slices of fish served also reflected the influence of Chinese cooking in the Melanau community. The dishes were served with fermented and salted vegetables to make it more interesting instead of just the normal umai,” he shared.

A contemporary dish named “Farce” which utilised fish fillet, head, bones and scales.
Senamu Balak and Balak Magnum

WhatMatters Sdn Bhd’s Marian Chin who curated the dinner expressed her appreciation for the support of the diners and hoped that they gained insight into traditional Dalat dishes and the region’s ethnic communities.

She also acknowledged individuals, namely Atit Ramlee, Wat Ugat, and Lawrence Chan for sharing their culinary knowledge with the two chefs on the dishes served. — DayakDaily