One of the places we like to visit on some weekends, is a cosy little place in Subang Jaya called the Hungry Hog. Just like its namesake, this place specialises in tasty and affordable pork dishes. Long before the Hungry Hog became a cafe, Cumi used to tell me about this website that did online catering, specializing in well, pig. The Hungry Hog website did non-halal catering for small parties – great for people like me, because I did not have to prepare all those great pork ribs, stewed pork, siew-yoke(roasted pork), etc, myself yet I could throw a rather successful party;) My husband was pretty sure, these were the same people who ran that online catering website.
Well, Cumi’s hunch was right and we were greeted at the door by Yeong Yeng Yee ( he likes to be called YY), the Head Hog and Chef at the cafe. He said that the next logical step following the online catering, was to open shop as there were many things he wanted to do, which could not be done via a small home catering kitchen. And so, Hungry Hog Cafe was born.
Here is our interview with Chef Yeng Yee, founder and Chef of the Hungry Hog..
1. Tell us about your background, and what made you change to the food industry?
Hi Ciki, I grew up in Subang Jaya and had a pretty normal course of life much like a lot of people. As such, food was always central to family gatherings, celebrations and festivals. I was a fat kid who loved to eat and my family always asked me to finish off any remaining dishes on the table, which I happily obliged. I dabbled in cooking once in a while, and helped my mom and grandma make ‘bak chang’ during the festivities. Over the years, I finished my studies and worked as an engineer, which was very agreeable and ‘safe’. But it didn’t give me much job satisfaction and I felt that something was missing in my life, so I decided to pack my bags and take a working holiday in the UK for a while. It was there that I opened up my eyes to food and cooking. I realized that I loved it and decided to set up my own cafe when I returned to Malaysia.
2. What advice do you have for people seeking to leave their 9-5 job and then going into the F&B industry?
My advice is to be very sure of your passion and what you’re getting yourself into. F&B is a very, very demanding and tough industry. You have to be prepared to have not much if any personal life in the beginning. Do the research and find your own niche, your own thing. I believe that your business should be an extension of yourself, of who you are. Only then will you have the passion to pull through difficult moments, as so you will be running on nothing but faith sometimes. Also, you will have to readjust your lifestyle to cope with more uncertainty in terms of salary, emotions and work planning. Be prepared to forget what they taught you in school, it’s a real life MBA.
3.What were your favorite foods growing up?
Anything with chilli! I’m a chilli freak. Mostly my parent’s cooking, nasi lemak, hawker food, and instant noodles. Oh and must have egg. Eggs are good. Chilli and eggs, yeah!
4.When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I never really wanted to be a proper chef, but I loved to cook and feed people. It make me very happy and satisfied to have people gather round a table, have good food, share stories and get closer to each other. But I think it was in the UK that I had the light bulb go on and decided to make the food business as my next career.
5.Where and when did your career in food begin?
It began with a part time online business selling roasted pork from home in 2009. I was just trying it out to see if an online food business would actually work here. Eventually I started a catering service for small parties and gthe demand picked up. One thing led to another, and I decided to take the next big step and open up shop.
6. Tell us about your travels and how it influenced the food you cook/like.
When I travel, I make a point to eat at street stalls, markets and places where the locals dine. More often than not, the most delicious food I’ve had in my travels are simple, uncomplicated street fare made by vendors proud of their offerings. I’ve traveled to countries in Europe and Asia, and these places have somehow or rather influenced my cooking style. So it’s a bit of a hodgepodge of experiences in there.
7.Who/what has shaped your cooking the most over the years?
Believe it or not, it’s actually Jamie Oliver and Richard Branson. Jamie got me excited about cooking with simple, fresh ingredients and making things fun. Richard got me excited about carving my own path and offering something new to people. They’re both a bit hippie and all about keeping things honest and fun, so that really speaks to me as I’m a bit hippie at heart too.
8.What are your favorite culinary weapons in the kitchen?
Definitely the knife and frying pan.
9.What influences your cooking style and particularly your menu?
I like simple, comfort food prepared well. Our cafe’s menu reflect that train of thought as we do not have too many items and we’re not doing wildly radical stuff, but we try to make each item good. For example, we make our own burger buns and patties as it makes a better burger and we can control the quality of the dish.
10.What is your favorite secret ingredient and why?
Salt. It makes anything taste better and there’s so many different uses. I can apply salt to season, cure, preserve, pickle and dry out foods. It’s also good for sore throats and disinfecting wounds. I also learned from my staff that it helps stop your eyes from watering when cutting onions!
friendly, motivated staff at the Hungry Hog
11.What is the one rule or value you try to instill in all of your staff?
If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well. I think this is a good compass to guide my staff to pay attention to detail and be responsible for their work. It also motivates them to be proud of what they do.
12.What was the most challenging meal you had to make? Why?
It wasn’t really a meal but more of a cake for someone’s hen’s night. I had to sculpt a naughty cake made with mash potatoes, sausage and meatballs. That really took some imagination and luck to pull off!
13.What was your worst restaurant disaster?
One particular night we were short of staff in the kitchen and the whole rhythm just broke down. The kitchen was processing orders much slower than usual. It didn’t help that we had particularly tough customers on the same night. It ended with quite a few cancellations and food thrown on the table by angry guests. Everyone was pushed to their limits and there were some tears. But we’ve moved on, learned our lessons and grown from the experience!
14.What are some recent dining and culinary trends you have been observing?
I think it’s going back to basics. People are looking back to simple, delicious food that is good value for their money. Nothing pretentious, nothing over the top. Just cozy, comfort food.
15.When you are not eating at your own restaurant…you are eating at?
Being Malaysian, I’m at the mamak a lot of times. But having only one off day a week, I like to indulge a bit on those days with Japanese, banana leaf rice, Thai food or a good pizza.
16.Which foreign country inspires your style most?
Britain. It was where I was exposed to cooking simply with fresh ingredients.
17.What was the most tasty meal you have ever had?
Pork noodles in Chiang Mai. It was at this cute and adorable little shack by the street side. It was packed every time I visited. The broth, ingredients and noodles were top notch! It still is by far the best pork noodles I’ve ever had.
18.What is your best cooking tip for a home enthusiast?
Don’t be too afraid to fail and don’t stick to a given recipe 100%. Cooking should be fun, so enjoy the experimentation and put in your own spin on things. If things fail, you will only learn from it and be a better cook the next time! Who knows, you could even turn that failed dish into something new. Be open.
Chef Yeng Yee
19.What do you eat when you are home?
I’m a simple person, so a good bread, butter, eggs and coffee combo usually does the trick. Otherwise Korean instant noodles with eggs and cabbage. I also tend to do one pot dishes when cooking for myself.
20.What’s a basic cooking technique that you couldn’t possibly live without?
Sautee or pan frying. This technique alone will make a huge variety of dishes and I think it is the most basic skill that anyone should learn.
21.Finally, what is your advice for all those new, up and coming Chefs out there?
Be true to yourself and work on your own niche. Be humble and willing to learn from others as there is always something new to improve on. Keep experimenting and researching to build up your repertoire, techniques and confidence. Lastly, always have fun in what you do. Be serious in your work, but don’t take yourself too seriously!
Add: The Hungry Hog, 71, Jalan SS 15/4C, Subang Jaya. Closed Mondays