Troika Sky Dining executive chef Chris Bauer tells us what to expect at the new eateries — versatile all-day restaurant The Chow Kit Kitchen and late-night taco bar MoMosita’s — he will run with Eddie Chew once The Chow Kit and MoMo’s open their doors in December. Drinks too? Oh yes.
Options: Tell us about the menu that you’ve designed for The Chow Kit Kitchen. We gather there are a lot of local influences in both your food and drink.
Bauer: Definitely. But we have tried to steer away from anything too obvious, so you can expect some pretty unusual things. The challenge has been to provide overseas tourists with items they are familiar with, while still staying true to The Chow Kit Kitchen’s concept and also giving locals dishes they know and love in a new and exciting interpretation.
The Chow Kit Kitchen is very much inspired by the gritty nature of the surrounding area. Has this made an impact on the menu planning?
Well, we’ve tried to keep the grit out of the salad (laughs). The gritty surrounding area just tells us to stay real. This is not a menu of spheres and foams; we have kept it much more real than that. It was more a question of taking something we know and adding that element of surprise to it. We always keep one thing foremost in mind when we develop new dishes; is this something I would drive across town for? Surprise alone is really not good enough, it needs to be memorable as well.
The idea behind MoMosita’s is delightful. How did it come up?
Oh, that was really simple. We looked at the space and just loved it. It’s really Chow Kit in its essence — gritty, a little underground, young. So our first thoughts were: food truck! If The Chow Kit Kitchen is luxury redefined, MoMosita’s is really food truck redefined. And this one’s got a full bar in it!
This is Troika Sky Dining’s first hotel collaboration. What has the experience been like, and will you do this again?
The team at Ormond is great and we have become friends quite quickly. They respect our F&B expertise and we profit from theirs in the developing and running of hotels, something that is entirely new to us. We will definitely do this again and I would personally like to see this as the beginning of a long and successful cooperation.
What are some of your favourite dishes on both menus?
You know, I always start talking about one dish I really like and by the end of it, I have listed them all, because if I didn’t like one it would not make it onto the menu. But let me think; MoMosita’s has a load of really great tacos, all made with proper masa flour that we import from Mexico, but for me, the jewel is that simple tortilla salad. It looks like nothing at all, but then you take your first mouthful and it explodes in a rainbow of flavours; orange cumin dressing, garlic cream-dressed baby corn, tomato pickle. Heaven! And all that for just RM10.
The Chow Kit Kitchen has so many great dishes; we are making two completely different rice dishes that I’ve completely fallen in love with. An unagi loh mai kai, which is a braised glutinous rice steamed with rich sauce and Japanese eel, which is completely luscious, and the other is just to-die-for: Avocado fried rice. Need I say more?
What was Ormond Group CEO Gareth Lim’s pitch that made this collaboration attractive to you?
Transforming a dreary utilitarian hotel into a new destination — who could resist that? We always like people who have a vision and The Chow Kit and MoMo’s have been more than just a money-making project for ECM Group, which is investing energy, thought and a fair amount of heart into them and that’s really attractive. But when I think back, Gareth’s pitch was really more like: “Hey, we’ve got these hotels coming up, would you guys like to run a couple of restaurants in them?”
Both restaurants are more casual than your usual style. Has this been a difficult adjustment to make?
See, this is really quite strange; both Fuego and Strato, our South American and Italian restaurants in the Troika are really casual, but everyone thinks of Troika Sky Dining as a high-end brand. What it boils down to is quality; to us, designing a casual menu does not mean we should sacrifice on the quality of ingredients or service. Just because you don’t pay top dollar does not mean you should not get top quality. I hate the “it will do”, “it’s good enough” attitude in the kitchen. It’s not just the wagyu that can be good, if you take buffalo meat and you cook it right, it turns into one of the most beautiful stews you’ve ever tasted. Any idiot can pan-sear foie gras, but the humbler ingredients take talent. Ask your grandmothers! So no, it’s not a difficult adjustment, it’s what chefs like to do.
This article first appeared on Oct 7, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.