KL dining scene gets a BIG boost by Benjamin Yong
Benjamin Yong, Chief Eating Officer and inspiring entrepreneur of The BIG Group graciously accepted to tell us all about his restless appetite for new cultures and his ethical vision of leading a business revolving around food.
Offering the best places in KL from brunch venues till speakeasy bars (plan B, Barlai, Tate & more!), he desires – and successfully manages – to offer a large repertoire of new experiences for his customers. Transforming the KL dining scene, this inspiring visionary talks about his favorite city of the moment, the magic of home cooking, and respect.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Since I was very young, 11 months old maybe, my parents gave me the opportunity to travel. Since then I have been exploring many countries – trying to understand the culture and get a real feeling of the local atmosphere. This is a great source of inspiration, along with reading, research and input from the team. Once a year I take the BIG Head Chefs on a discovery trip to sample the food in a chosen destination. This year the ten of us went to Istanbul, trying the food from street stands, supermarkets, high-end restaurants and basically soaking up into the Turkish way of life.
This looks like a dream job!
It is indeed a fascinating job, but there is more behind it, lots of work actually. I first do a preliminary trip to the destination, spot the places and local specialties that can be interesting – you cannot just walk into a city and expect to find the best food or place instantaneously. You need to spend some time in the country to grasp the philosophy and learn how to interact with the people.
What is your favorite destination for shopping and food right now?
Every new place I go to fast becomes my favorite destination; I love new experiences, discoveries! It’s so exciting and inspiring!
But right now Istanbul is my crush – east and west crisscross, very unique and similar in some ways to Malaysia, yet so different. The diversity of cultures and the balance between contemporary and historical elements is quite fascinating over there.
We love you newest venue – Barlai – and hope we can get more of those lovely heritage houses revamped! Do you have any similar upcoming venues?
In the same old meets new spirit, we opened Plan B in Ipoh recently. I feel Ipoh is getting moving, and I am quite excited about that – I grew up there and so it’s close to my heart. For Plan B Ipoh, we have been working closely with Sek San. This is a key aspect of our philosophy at BIG; working with people that speak the same lingo. Barlai was also created together with him. Let’s see if any other interesting opportunity arises.
Are you going to expand BIG internationally?
We already have a venue in England – a gorgeous B&B, or ‘Restaurant and Rooms’ as it should be called. It is in the countryside,two and a half hours from London, and the ideal place to relax. A local couple takes care of the house; grows their own vegetables, and cooks delicious seasonal food.
Apart from that, I want to concentrate on fine-tuning the dining scene in Malaysia for now and to make sure that we deliver a 95% consistency of service and quality.
When you are in KL, where is your favorite venue to go out for dinner?
I have to say, as cliché as it may sound, my favorite venue comes from cooking at home – because it has the taste of love.
Could you share your life motto with us?
I am not sure about a motto, but two words are very important to me: thoughtfulness and consideration.
In every decision I make for BIG, I keep this in mind: being thoughtful, respectful and ethical. I try to insufflate a mutual respect for people, through the products we use and our way of doing things. It is important to have a value system and make sure that what we build together is here to stay.
Has Benjamin Yong’s interview got you craving for a little Turkish delight? Then head over to Ben’s Independent Grocer for The BIG Bazaar and find the best selection of Turkish products from the 26th of June till the 3rd of August 2014. You can also get a taste of Turkey by indulging at Ben’s, Plan B, and Ben’s General Food Store from Turkish-inspired menus from 14th till 27th of July. Still longing for more Turkish yummyness? The BIG Bazaar will also include a Turkish Food Fair at The Square, Publika this 11th to 26th July 2014 from 4pm onwards. Come savor a spread of Turkish and local favorites with family and friends! For more information, visit www.thebiggroup.co