My first Supper Club in London
Being Malaysian and a self-declared Masterchef, it could only mean one thing – I am OBSESSED with food! I’m proud of it and I’m sure many others feel as strongly as I do. I’d spend my weekends scouring foods in markets; like the hottest Ultra Death chilli (I didn’t make up that name!) in The Spice Shop in Notting Hill or trying every Caribbean restaurant in search for the best jerk chicken in the country!
Check out the slideshow below for Chef's yummy Hainanese Chicken Rice, soft shell crab and lots more...
In my quest for good food and a stubborn habit to replicate authentic Malaysian food in London, I’ve visited every single Chinese supermarkets in London for jicama or yam bean, showing up at the door every day just before opening time praying that being the early bird, I’d catch the worm (or yam bean in this instance!). So imagine my elation when Chef Norman Musa responded to my request for an interview with him, and most importantly, wait for it, invited me to stay and join in his Malaysian Kopitiam-themed supper club for free! Jackpot -free authentic Malaysian food served by a world-renowned chef and a full 4 hours to pick his culinary brain, how much better could that get!
Armed with my tripod, camera and a growling tummy, I arrived at Hackney Wick station. I was a little confused at first, as I found myself in an industrial area with rows and rows of factories and workshops. But my concerns were quickly abated when I realised that the place was really cool. There was a former peanut factory turned music studio, small start-up companies, book art centres, design houses and interesting wall graffitis. There is a boho buzz in the air.
I was greeted by a converted warehouse in the popular ironworks development. The journey to the flat, unconsciously, had set the tone for the supper club. Supper clubs are normally run in unlikely places like disused warehouses, building sites and houseboats by chefs who relish independence and the informality for ordinary people. Chef Norman has had it spot on!
Malaysian hospitality at its FINEST
When I showed up, Chef Norman, his manager Andy and two Welsh kitchen helpers were very accommodating. I felt so welcomed that it felt like being home. With a long island kitchen top smacked in the middle of the room, I slipped in and out of the kitchen filming, interviewing and taking photos of the chef.
To say that Chef Norman is a friendly person is an understatement. Unlike many chefs that we have met or seen on TV, Chef Norman’s humble disposition in spite of his rising celebrity status in Malaysia and in the UK and Europe, make him immensely likeable. This probably explains his sudden increase of fans on Facebook from 10,000 to 40,000 overnight after appearing on a TV programme!
Chef Norman also spots a great sense of humour as he shared a little banter with his kitchen helpers. He appeared bossy at times, but to his defence, it was only because he wanted to serve only the best food. Whilst he chopped up the vegetables, he said with a cheeky grin: “One of my fans commented on Facebook that I have big biceps ...” to which he flexed his arms as he continued chopping.
Did I mention by now, I already tried chef’s popiah basah when he was prepping? I made a passing comment that in Penang, we’d normally have a bit of gravy on the popiah, to which he exclaimed that that was a good idea and proceeded to do the same! How cool is he? And not forgetting his new range of pandan chocolates which I had the honour of trying before being sold to the public!
To return the favour, I ended up helping out the team, from folding the serviettes into pretty little cups and greeted guests upon their arrival.
During the interview, Chef Norman shared his inspirational story. For someone who never trained to be a chef and started with nothing, Chef Norman worked really hard for seven years to finally reap the benefits of his hard work now.
“Everyone needs to have a dream. If you really want it, work hard and you will achieve it. I didn’t go to culinary school, and was looked down by other chefs when I worked with them. But that didn’t put me off. I took it as a challenge. I fought and proved to them that I could do it.”
He also advised students and aspiring chefs to be humble and to do away with the ego.
“Don’t be arrogant or aggressive. It doesn’t help. You may have all the awards, but, you will only command respect when you respect others. Last year I recruited a graduate from a culinary school in Birmingham. My advice to him was to put his head down and get on with it. In the early years as a chef, new young chefs should just learn from others and refrain from being rude.”
“In the kitchen, everyone needs to look after each other. In mine, we are like family. People have to get on with each other, particularly the front and kitchen staff.
It’s evident that Chef Norman practices what he preaches. With a strong sense of determination, he has not only opened restaurants and organised cookery classes and supper clubs, he is also a businessman, producing his own range of chocolates, curry powder and ice cream.
An innovator, Chef Norman’s favourite dish is his very own creation – beef wellington rendang. It’s a combination of East and West, and has been featured in Jamie Oliver’s magazine. It’s his dream to cook for the Queen, apart from making Malaysian food big around the world!
KOPITIAM-theme supper club
I had no idea what to expect of this supper club. Would it be weird that I didn’t really know anyone? Is it like eating in a restaurant? To my surprise, everyone who showed up would just walk up to people that they didn’t know, say hello and start chatting! The atmosphere was so laid-back! At that moment I promised myself that if I ever wanted to go to a fancy restaurant again, I’m better off saving the money to go to a supper club where everyone just talks to anyone! On top of that, it’s a great way to make new friends who are adventurous about food (even the durian didn’t put off the non-Malaysians) and to get to know more Malaysians.
Food fit for THE QUEEN
We started the evening with yummy-licious appetisers; popiah basah (spring rolls), loi kei bak (chicken rolls in tofu wrapping) and sumptuous ketam goreng (soft shell crabs). The popiah skin was a personal achievement for Chef Norman as it was his first time perfecting it. For those of you craving for homemade popiah, why not make its filling and watch chef’s video on how to wrap it up nicely.
This was followed by the long-awaited chicken rice. It was so sinfully authentic with its garlic chilli sauce, soya sauce and chicken broth soup that I think I speak for all Malaysians there, that we were temporarily transported back home for that moment.
And finally the desserts! We had bubur kacang (sweet mung beans porridge), bubur pulut hitam (black glutinous rice) and cucur kodok (banana fritters). We were all bursting at the seams by then. But the food did not stop.
We ended up on a high with homemade rose ice cream and Malaysian coffee. To top it off, Chef Norman got the crowd excited when he cut open the durian – eliciting a lot of oohs and aahs.
Andy, the manager, was most hospitable as he checked on us regularly, introducing food to us in his flawless Malay and bringing us dish after dish throughout the night!
Speak to the man himself!
Do we recommend it?
A resounding YES! We’d rate it 10 out of 10. And if you’re worried about eating too full, Andy provides transport to and fro from the supper club. Now isn’t that just brilliant hospitality?
Watch below video for Chef Norman’s inspirational story and advice.
Look up more culinary courses here.
An aspiring journalist with a passion for investigative journalistic work. Also a self-declared masterchef.