It’s no news that Malaysia’s tourism sector was hit hard last year, and is only now beginning to recover. Zhexi and Yongzhi were two such employees who also felt its impact, losing their jobs as hotel chefs during the pandemic.
But this setback didn’t keep them down for long. With RM10K, they set up a small omakase experience in a 300 sq. ft space on February 20, 2021. They called it Eat and Cook.
At the time, it could only cater to 12 customers in a day, 6 for lunch, and 6 for dinner.
As neither Zhexi nor Yongzhi knew how to do marketing for their brand, they sought advice from their best friends Steve and Harry, who today serve as their current director and partner, respectively.
Together, the 4 of them were able to drive up awareness and traffic to the store, and seeing the traction they had gained so far, they decided it was time to expand.
Now located in Bukit Jalil City, they’re able to serve up to 30 pax a night.
An omakase of Malaysian memories
“The name of our restaurant sums up what we’re about. You enter with an appetite to eat and our chefs will decide what to cook for you—right in front of you,” Steve and Zhexi repeated their philosophy to Vulcan Post in an interview.
While Malaysia doesn’t lack omakase options, there’s a slight difference in Eat and Cook’s omakase branding.
When you think “omakase”, you’d usually think about Japanese cuisine, and rightfully so, as that is where the concept originated from.
However, for Zhexi, Yongzhi, and Steve, all of whom graduated from the same culinary arts school, what they wanted to take from omakase was mainly the mystery of the menu.
Then they focused on using locally-sourced ingredients for their dishes.
“We found that our homeland ingredients are neglected by our people and actually we do have very great produce like our herbs, seafood, and also spices from our local farmers which are from Cameron Highlands, Pantai Remis, Sabah, etc.,” Steve and Zhexi said.
“When we serve customers, we also will share [with them] how we cook, what local ingredients we are using to create the dish, and also what is the flavour [of it] that we grow up [with] as a Malaysian.”
The duo gave an example of a familiar dish they had transformed. Assam laksa is usually served with thick noodles and a rich mackerel broth, but at Eat and Cook, the noodles are replaced by tuna strips and the broth is changed to a light foam.
“People may not know [what it is when] looking at it, but when they taste it they will immediately [recognise] the flavour of the dish,” Steve and Zhexi said.
In a sense, you could say that their omakase theme is built on reigniting memories Malaysians have with their favourite food through reimagined and transformed dishes.
Pivoting in the midst of a lockdown
Just over a month after opening, Eat and Cook actually had to close its doors when the government announced the COVID-19 lockdown.
“It really hurt badly because every month we do not have enough sales to cover the expenses of the restaurant, because we didn’t [lay off] any of our employees,” the duo shared.
“But thank god, once we opened the restaurant, most of our customers supported us so we are able to get back on track.”
Though they weren’t able to serve customers omakase during the lockdown, the Eat and Cook team didn’t mope around.
They got to work changing their food from fine dining to a variety of other styles such as barbeque, a Don (rice bowl dish) menu, and a Home Chef Series meal kit for fans to cook up their own 3-course set for 2 pax at home.
Since reopening, Eat and Cook has returned fully to omakase fine dining. According to the team, business is booming—they’re always fully booked, and most guests have to book a slot 1.5 months in advance.
Eat and Cook changes its menu every 3-4 months based on the season, and for the current one, it’s serving an 11-course menu that costs RM398++.
On their website, you can usually find a menu that outlines the ingredients you’ll be enjoying, but you’ll have no idea what creative forms these dishes will take in the spirit of omakase.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Amidst strong fan support, Eat and Cook hasn’t forgotten the people who matter most: its own team. It prides itself on fostering a good team culture, and even highlights team members on its social media to give fans a personal understanding of the people behind their food.
“We would like to expand our F&B group so all of the staff have the opportunity to lead, to experience, explore their creativity, and also become one of the shareholders,” Steve and Zhexi expressed.
“We do believe a good commission system is also very important in an organisation because it motivates the employees and makes them more productive, and they will feel the company is part of them as well.”
With the right team, they’re aiming to become one of the best restaurants in KL and to get recognised by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants to increase brand visibility.
Already thinking ahead, Steve and Zhexi believe that this would enable them to recruit elite talents as well as start new brands.
Each brand would carry different concepts, but the team will continue to target medium to high-range customers.
Featured Image Credit: Eat and Cook