Today’s Chef in the Spotlight is Executive Chef Mohammad Ali Kunhi, of The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur..
During our recent stay at The Majestic KL, we got the opportunity to talk to the bubbly and personable, Executive Chef Mohammad Ali Kunhi. The Chef’s opening line to us was, “Please call me Mo”, and we knew right from the start, he would captivate us with his infectious personality and disarming smile.
Hailing from Singapore, Mohammad has many years of experience working in the Middle East. He first came to the region to work for Ritz-Carlton in Doha, Qatar in July 2001 and also spent one year working at The Fairmont Dubai in its restaurant, Spectrum On One. Chef Mohammad began his chef’s career in the kitchen with Musa restaurants in Singapore in 1993. He is married and speaks fluent Malay, a bit of Chinese and basic Arabic.
Here is our interview with Chef Mohammad, er, Mo!
1. Hi Chef! Please tell us a little about your hometown, and what life was like growing up.
I grew up in Katong, Singapore, where I woke up to the smell of Laksa every morning. Life back then was all about food, when I was growing up!
2. How did you know you wanted to be a Chef?
Both my parents were Chefs and having helped them in the kitchen in my younger days and seeing how passionate they were prepping each dish with love, made me decide then that, I shall never leave the kitchen!
3. What prompted you to relocate to Kuala Lumpur?
After being away from Singapore half my life travelling around the world from Switzerland, Middle East and China…I decided to be back in South East Asia and nearer home.
Lots of new dining venues and chic concepts popping up everywhere in the last 6 months I have been here.
5. How does the culinary landscape in KL differ from your hometown?
Back home, the culinary landscape is now heading towards world class celebrity chefs and Michelin-star chefs establishing their restaurants in Singapore.
6. What changes do you see coming to this city?
With all the new hotel openings in the city, surely new innovative dining concepts will land soon in KL.
7. How does your current position differ from your role at your other previous positions?
Besides cooking with passion everyday, my current position is much more exciting because you are setting a benchmark in the operation and leading a team.
8. How does your city of origin affect the menus you create for The Majestic KL?
In The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur, we have 2 restaurants. The Colonial Café recreates the atmosphere of the halcyon days of the planters of Malaya and offers authentic classical cuisine from the colonial era such as Chicken Chop, Old Style Faggots, Spotted Dick to name a few. And we have Contango, a luxuriously designed contemporary restaurant featuring an open kitchen interactive dining concept. The cuisine, freshly prepared to order, ranges from Asian, Japanese, to Western and Grilled dishes. A 2000 bottle wine cellar includes the Opus One vertical collection of wine created through a collaboration between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. This is where, most of my signature dishes influenced by my travels around the world, are featured.
9. Your life’s journeys have taken you many places. Is there one place that you really call home?
I dont have ONE place, but TWO places – Dubai, UAE and China
Dubai being the place I spent a close 8 years, and it is where I got my fame in the culinary circle. Also the cosmopolition lifestyle suits me and I really like to call Dubai home. China is also like home, for different reasons. I loved the cultural exchange within China. The places where I was attached to during my assignments were Shanghai, Suzhou & Xinjiang. The food scene was amazing! Very exotic – all the way from Beijing to Xian, and the number of friends I made from different parts of China made me feel as close to home, as I could be.
11. What are you eating, when you are at home?
I am a simple eater, but I do love my carbs! I love huge, gourmet sandwiches with a big salad on the side. I was also rather impressed with “Ben’s” when my friends brought be to Publika. Being in KL only 9 months I found the supermarket well stacked with all sorts of luxurious, gourmet items and I had a field day with the cheeses, and what have you.
Well, many of the recipes of the dishes you get at the hotel, especially at the Colonial Cafe, have been around since the old hotel. We’ve carried on the traditional, “hand me down” recipes of the escargot, the hainanese chicken chops as well as the hainanese chicken rice balls, to name a few. The stewed beef brisket which you guys enjoyed so much (Ciki: post to come) is a particularly laborious recipe that has not been tweaked nor changed from the original, as it is perfect just as it is. The rice balls till today, are rolled by hand, by a Hainanese Chef.. it doesn’t get more authentic than that. At Contango, we get our fresh delivery of seafood every Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am pretty particular about getting these items fresh from the source, and not via too many third parties or middle men.
13. Tell us about any kitchen catastrophes you might have had?
Live Maine Lobsters not arriving on the morning of the a high profile event of 1200pax. Not funny!
14. Do you have any advice for up and coming Chefs?
Always remember – everyday is a discovery, respect your ingredients and never let your passion fizzle.
The Majestic Hotel,
5 Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin
Kuala Lumpur, 50000
Phone +60 (0)3 27858000