World Chefs: Ismail offers a "flashback" to Malaysian heritage

Tue Sep 18, 2012 11:14pm EDT
 
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By Anuradha Raghu

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - As a young boy Ismail Ahmad spent most of his childhood helping his grandmother in the kitchen, learning heirloom recipes and traditional Malay-styled culinary methods, skills that have helped build his successful career in Malaysia.

Hailing from a quiet village in Negeri Sembilan state, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Kuala Lumpur, the 52-year-old Ismail set up Rebung - a restaurant known for its signature Malay dishes - after a successful spate of hosting television cooking shows and touring as the country's food ambassador.

Sprawling across three bungalow houses in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, Rebung, which marks its 10th anniversary next year and was set up with business partner Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, welcomes diners with its cozy wooden furniture, warm lighting and live karaoke sessions at night.

Rebung's 50-odd item buffet spread, pegged between 40-50 ringgit ($13-$16), has earned Ismail fame for its Malay dishes that are hard to come by. Some of his customers are willing to take a 4-hour road trip from Singapore just for lunch.

Q: How did your grandparents nurture your love for cooking?

A: "Since I was about 5 years old, I helped my grandmother in the kitchen - plucking bean sprouts, cleaning dried anchovies, peeling onions, running off to the market to buy tamarind pieces. Later on I learned how to cook our heritage dishes.

"My grandfather taught me about ‘freshness' when choosing seafood. I would follow him to the market on Saturdays to buy fish. He didn't physically teach me, but he'll chat to the fishmonger and I would listen."

Q: How did growing up in a quiet village influence your cooking style?   Continued...

 
Malaysia's chef Ismail Ahmad poses at his restaurant, Rebung, in Kuala Lumpur September 5, 2012. As a young boy Ismail spend most of his childhood helping his grandmother in the kitchen, learning heirloom recipes and traditional Malay-styled culinary methods, skills that have helped build his successful career in Malaysia. Picture taken September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad