Bangsar’s famous cake haven Plump opens second outlet in TTDI

Cheah Wen Tao, founder of Plump and TaoBakesCakes, talks about swapping banking for baking.

Plump’s latest cafe in TTDI (Photo: @sherreenl)

Options: Congratulations on your latest Plump outlet in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, which complements your first café in Bangsar as well as the TaoBakesCakes central bakery. Tell us about your rapid expansion.
Cheah Wen Tao: To be honest, the great turning point came after meeting fellow home baker Angelina Chong, now co-owner of TaoBakesCakes and the Plump cafés. Prior to that, I was so deeply engrossed in the physical toil of baking and the mental burden of constantly thinking about cake flavours and clients’ orders that I never had the headspace to consider the business aspects and sustainability of my venture. Angelina’s experience as financial analyst and chef in London kitchens brought order to our chaotic operations and straightened out our then-iffy financial position. She also whipped our team of talented bakers and café managers into shape; all of them are now equally invested in the success of our small, but growing, business.

You also bring financial experience to the table. Tell us how you transitioned from Bank Negara to baking.
Painfully slowly, with no rest days! After 10 years with the central bank, not to mention obtaining my mathematics degree under its scholarship programme, the idea of a career change was terrifying. But I was obsessed with the need to use my hands, to create something tangible people could sense, touch and feel … using a skill that went beyond the value of a framed certificate or the acronyms on an added line in my CV. That was how I ended up at Ferrandi, a culinary school in Paris, followed by an internship at Frédéric Cassel’s patisserie in Fontainebleau and eventually baking solo from a studio apartment with my precious stash of Valrhona chocolates stored at my bedside. I started baking by day, washing dishes by night, taking orders at midnight, and personally delivering each and every cake and shopping for ingredients in-between.

Would you say KL’s café scene has skyrocketed of late?
It is extremely competitive but I am thrilled! As a business owner, it helps keep us on our toes and under constant pressure to create new things that resonate with our customers. I tend to gravitate towards less showy and gimmicky places. Favourites include Ebony & Ivory Coffee in Cheras for down-to-earth, homey rice bowls and cakes; Transparent Coffee in Kampung Attap for gorgeous espresso on the rocks; and Fari & Ali’s Kitchen in Damansara Heights for cream puffs to share with my two kids.


Tao was with the central bank for a decade before making the pivot to desserts (Photo: SooPhye)

What inspires your creations?
Globetrotting — the easiest route to inspiration. I am a voracious eater of cakes first and, then, in a distant second place, a baker. Previous hits include the Kaya Cake, a Victoria sandwich filled with our own kaya based on my grandma’s recipe, and a strawberry and pistachio custard pie. This Ramadan, we are introducing a Kunafa Cheesecake and extending our opening hours to allow customers extra time to relax and enjoy our treats.

What are your favourite non-baked things to eat?
As a Penang boy, an unshakeable craving for hawker food, be it char kway teow or cendol, creeps up on me every other week. I will make do with what’s available in the Klang Valley, but for favourites like Mee Goreng CRC and ST Loo Beef Noodle, nothing beats the real deal and a visit to the island would be warranted.

What are you reading right now?
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by the legendary food writer, Elizabeth David.

I am re-reading this collection of recipes, essays and thoughts, as she was an inspiration to some of my top-rated British chefs such as Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leigh and Jeremy Lee, whose cookbooks sit in our Plump cafés for customers to leaf through, with a slice of cake and cup of tea. We hope it appeals to fellow Anglophile or Francophile foodies stuck in the tropics, just like me.

Do you have preferred music to work or bake to?
I usually play the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs. Each week, a prominent guest is asked to choose eight music recordings, a book and a luxury item they would take if cast away and discuss the reasons for their choices. You can listen to archived episodes as far back as the 1970s on Spotify.

What was your original ambition?
To be surrounded by food and eat cake all day. So, I say I am pretty much there, although it is harder work than I thought it would be.



Is it true that ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’?
Not at all! There is a place in the F&B industry for anyone who cares and wants to be a part of it. Sure, not everyone can keep up with Michelin-star standards, but there is a kitchen or business that caters to every cuisine, style, ambition, seriousness, pace or temperament. Plus there is always the option of starting something yourself.

Describe your idea of the perfect weekend.
It starts on Saturday morning with a walk with my wife, Stefanie, around the Damansara Heights surrounds but only after coffee from CCC’s barista/punk rocker Alang. CCC seems to be the neighbourhood’s caffeine hub. This is followed by brunch with the kids at La Spiga D’oro for gorgeous schiacciata sandwiches stuffed with different cheeses and hams, though they will be more preoccupied with bottled Italian fruit nectars and the adjacent playground. Hopefully, there’s time for a cheeky afternoon Rum negroni at Junglebird, which always delights, while the kids nap; and a quick visit to Plump Bangsar to enjoy the late afternoon vibes, chat with regulars and enjoy the view of all four of KL’s tallest skyscrapers from the balcony.

I always pack a chocolate cookie home, just in case. For dinner, and if we’re lucky, the guys at buzzy Table & Apron in Damansara Kim would squeeze us in last minute so we can tuck into buckwheat fried chicken and the always-excellent specials.

Sunday mornings are spent at the park. Recently, we’ve been frequenting Taman Subang Ria’s Parc community space so the kids can be shaded while running amok and because there is much-needed coffee for the adults at Unfold. The last snatches of the weekend are dedicated to napping and more napping before a simple dinner of roast chicken and mash. A dessert of blackberry fool made with the kids would be a sweet bonus. Once they fall asleep, the wife and I would sneak off to Plump TTDI for a peaceful pot of chamomile tea in the pink-walled courtyard. We would not allow ourselves anymore pudding, though the manager would do her best to lead us into temptation. This little space is perfect for the teeniest bit of pre-Monday workaholism on our devices to get a head start for the coming week.  


This article first appeared on Mar 18, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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