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A diner isn’t often privy to what’s going on behind the scenes of a restaurant. 

But sometimes, the food can speak volumes, moulded by the ethos of its chefs.

From the very first time we tasted ZEN by MEL’s offerings to our most recent culinary journey with the launch of “Volume: Jordan”, we could definitely tell things have changed.

Our first-ever impression of ZEN by MEL’s debut menu was that, while beautiful, some dishes tried too hard to impress.

Don’t get us wrong. It was clear how the chefs had put their all into every single detail. Yet, the harmony of flavours had become unbalanced. As a result, the execution of some of the dishes left our palates confused. 

And based on a candid chat we had with Chef Jordan Alexis Yap, executive chef at ZEN by MEL, that might have been the chef’s ego cooking.

“When we started our first menu, it was more towards how we want to make it as high end as possible, with our egos and all.” 

The main point that chefs are missing most of the time is that the ego gets the better of us, whereby you want customers to eat it this way, that way.

But now his philosophy is different. 

“I feel at my current stage, after being through all this, it’s like: What for [do] all this when at the end I’m serving what customers want, what customers feel is comfortable?”

“We had to tone it down and go back to what customers love, instead of what our egos want.”

As we saw for ourselves, Chef Jordan isn’t all bark, no bite. His food reflected the shift in his ethos, if our enjoyment of ZEN by MEL’s latest “Volume: Jordan” menu was of anything to go by.

While the aesthetics remained on point, each dish was harmonious and humble despite their slight flair.

“It’s very cliche that chefs use their childhood memories of food, but the reason why I use this is because this food has gotten me through [many things],” Chef Jordan explained.

One of the dishes on the menu—halibut paired with puttanesca, Kalamata olives, yuzu, young papaya (somtam), and elderflower—exemplifies this.

It’s a dish “six years in the making”, he described as he served it, inspired by what his mother used to make for him to lift his spirits.

So, yes, while it might be cliche, there’s beauty in going back to one’s roots, however, reimagined in a more refined and elevated manner.

“I’ve cooked staff meals with [this kind of food], I’ve actually eaten it myself when I was in very bad situations. These are the foods that got me through all those periods and helped me stick to this line of work.”

In fact, at one point, he had exited the company, but then returned not just as a chef, but also as a shareholder. 

It’s a testament to his grit and determination to keep putting his best foot forward, and shows that he really believes in the brand itself.

And boy, does he have big plans for their future.

It starts with the name of the brand, zen

To Chef Jordan, zen symbolises the act of being at peace with oneself, and he is shaping ZEN by MEL’s environment to encourage that.

He believes that customers should be able to chat and laugh to their heart’s content as they dine on good comfort food that’s created with them in mind.

If you’re thinking that this is no longer very fine dining in nature, you’re right. 

ZEN by MEL is undergoing a metamorphosis under Chef Jordan’s leadership, and seeks to introduce a more izakaya-like atmosphere.

We’re glad to have been able to witness the young brand and team of chefs mature over time, under the guidance of Mel Group’s co-founders Damien and Mel, and we look forward to what they will dish out in the future.

As Chef Jordan concluded, “We might not start off very nice or very good because we are all learning, as well as being young [chefs].”

“We’ve grown up and we’ve matured, since it’s been almost three years since the first season. I would say we’re happy professionals now.”

  • Read our previous feature on ZEN by MEL here.
  • Read more Malaysian startup stories here.

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(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)