It is not news that the tourism sector in Malaysia was hit hard last year and is only now starting to recover. Zhexi and Yongzhi were two of those employees who also felt its impact, losing their jobs as hotel managers during the pandemic.
But this setback did not hold them back for long. With RM10K, they set up a small omakase experiment in a 300 square foot space on February 20, 2021. They called it Eat and Cook.
At the time, it could only accommodate 12 clients per day, 6 for lunch and 6 for dinner. Since neither Zhexi nor Yongzhi knew how to market their brand, they sought advice from their best friends Steve and Harry, who are now their current director and partner, respectively.
Together they were successful in increasing awareness and traffic to the store, and seeing the traction they had gained so far, they decided it was time to grow.
Now located in the town of Bukit Jalil, they can serve up to 30 people per night.
An omakase of Malaysian memories
“The name of our restaurant sums up who we are. You walk in with an appetite for food 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 has no shortage of omakase options, there is a slight difference in Eat and Cook’s brand of omakase.
When you think of “omakase” you usually think of Japanese cuisine, and rightly so, because that’s where the concept comes from.
However, for Zhexi, Yongzhi, and Steve, all graduates of the same culinary arts school, what they wanted out of the omakase was mostly the mystery of the menu.
Then they focused on using local ingredients for their dishes.
“We have found that the ingredients of our homeland are neglected by our people and in fact we have very good products like our herbs, seafood and also spices from our local farmers who come from Cameron Highlands, Pantai Remis, Sabah, etc. Steve and Zhexi said.
“When we serve customers, we will also share [with them] how we cook, what local ingredients we use to create the dish, and also what the flavor is [of it] we will grow [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 with tuna strips and the broth is changed to a light mousse.
“People may not know [what it is when] looking at it, but when they taste it, they will immediately be [recognise] the flavor of the dish, ”said Steve and Zhexi.
In a sense, you could say that their omakase theme is built on vivid memories Malaysians have with their favorite food through redesigned and transformed dishes.
Pivot during the confinement period
Just over a month after opening, Eat and Cook had to close its doors when the government announced the lockdown of COVID-19.
“It really hurts because every month we don’t have enough sales to cover the restaurant’s expenses, because we don’t have [lay off] none of our employees, ”the duo explained.
“But thank goodness once we opened the restaurant, most of our customers supported us so we could get back on track.”
While they weren’t able to serve omakase customers during the lockdown, the Eat and Cook team didn’t bite.
They got to work changing their food from fine dining to a variety of other styles such as barbecue, a put on (rice bowl dish) and a Home Chef Series meal kit for fans to prepare their own 3-course set for 2 people at home.
Since its reopening, Eat and Cook has fully returned to omakase gastronomy. According to the team, business is booming – it’s always full and most customers need to book a slot 1.5 months in advance.
Eat and Cook changes their menu every 3-4 months depending on the season, and for the current menu, they serve an 11-course menu that costs RM398 ++.
On their website, you can usually find a menu that describes the ingredients you will enjoy, but you will have no idea what creative forms these dishes will take in the spirit of the omakase.
Teamwork is the source of dream work
Amid strong fan support, Eat and Cook hasn’t forgotten the people who matter most: his own team. He takes pride in fostering a great team culture and even highlights team members on his social media to give fans a personal understanding of the people behind their food.
“We would like to expand our F&B group so that all staff have the opportunity to lead, experience, explore their creativity and also become one of the shareholders,” said Steve and Zhexi.
“We believe that a good commission system is also very important in an organization because it motivates employees and makes them more productive, and they will feel the company is part of them as well.”
With the right team, they aim to become one of the best restaurants in KL and be recognized by the 50 best restaurants in Asia to increase brand visibility.
Already thinking about the future, Steve and Zhexi believe it would allow them to recruit elite talent as well as launch new brands.
Each brand would carry different concepts, but the team will continue to target mid to high-end customers.
- You can read more about Eat and Cook here.
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Featured Image Credit: Eat and Cook
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