The director of newly formed d’Alti Gusti, which imports and retails artisanal gourmet truffle products, talks about two other pillars of his company — culinary masterclasses and bespoke private fine dining experiences.
Options: Tell us a little about why you started d’Alti Gusti in September this year.
Luis Sek: I’ve always loved all things Italian. Italy is one of my favourite destinations and I make it a point to travel there at least once, sometimes twice, a year. I love the food, the culture ... everything. Career-wise, I have been flying for over 20 years, working first as a pilot with Malaysia Airlines and then Korean Air. Unfortunately, I was made redundant in July and I thought, rather than wait for Covid-19 to end, why not use this time to fulfil my passion, which is to work with fine Italian produce? I had always toyed with the idea of opening a place like this but never had the time.
Tell us more about d’Alti Gusti.
The name is actually Italian for ‘elevated tastes’. We wanted something different, so our business revolves around three pillars: shop, learn and dine. What we want to offer here is a gourmet meal in the setting of a home via our bespoke private dining experiences, which can be vibrant Aperitivissimo supper club-style evenings or seasonal table d’hôte menus. This is a perfect complement to our role as exclusive importer of artisanal gourmet truffle products by Umbria-based Giuliano Tartufi. We also have a culinary education programme and a catering and events division. Food has always played such a big part in my life and, now, I am happy I can share what I love with others.
Who looks after the F&B side of the business?
The executive chef of d’Alti Gusti is my cousin, Simon Phillips. We always travel together and Italy is one of our favourite countries to visit. Simon studied at the Florence Culinary Arts School and was working as an F&B consultant in Hong Kong for some time prior to coming here. He also studied classical civilisations and classical languages at King’s College, Cambridge, so you will find his cuisine always bound by his love of Italian history, culture and heritage as evinced in our seasonal menu, inspired by Dante’s La Divina Comedia.
It couldn’t have been easy pivoting from flying to F&B. What was the learning curve like?
Steep. I had to learn everything from scratch! I flew 737 aircraft, and flying is such a technical profession. Everything was all about safety and procedures, with absolutely no room for deviation. Food, on the other hand, is all about creativity. For me, I had to learn and adapt very quickly, from checking the quality of produce to learning about cuts of beef. It is all about changing one’s mindset and being able to think on one’s feet.
You were with Malaysia Airlines during the dark days of the MH370 and MH17 disasters. That must have been a harrowing time.
I actually knew the co-pilot and first officer of the two flights respectively. It was a terrible time, but we were still professionals and our duty of care was to our passengers. During the time of MH370, I remember having to fly a plane back. Our thoughts were, of course, with our fallen friends, but I remember speaking the crew, motivating and encouraging them. No matter what, we had passengers to take care of.
Now, with Covid-19 presenting another challenge to the industry, I think it helps to remember that life still goes on, no matter what. You just need to stay positive and never, ever give up. I have friends struggling with depression and so many pilots have lost their livelihoods. Aviation will, of course, recover one day, but I don’t like wasting time either. Pick up a skill and try something new today, something you love and believe in. I am not the type of person to sit and wait for things to happen. If there is no opportunity, create it. In life, what I have learnt is that one needs to work hard and all will be well.
Where did you travel to just before the Movement Control Order happened?
I was in Canada on vacation at the end of February to early March. I have family in Vancouver but I hadn’t visited the east coast before, so I took the opportunity to visit Montreal and Toronto, where I loved exploring the French-influenced food there. Also, the people are just wonderful. I also visited Hallstatt and Prague for their Christmas markets last winter. I love snow, so travelling during winter is a favourite of mine.
What has been the most adventurous thing you’ve ever eaten, though?
Live sea spoon worms in Korea called gaebul, which are still wriggling when you eat it with some sauce. I thought it was gross but I’ll still try everything at least once!
And where would you like to return to eat once the world takes on a sense of normalcy again?
I love Italy, so of course one restaurant would have to be Italian. I would say Sostanza in Florence, which is a family-run trattoria with the most delicious butter chicken ever. It’s not like the Indian version at all but just a simple buttery-smooth chicken seared in clarified butter. Then, I would say Royal Mouriya in Kobe for its teppanyaki wagyu and then Nakiryu in Toshima City, Tokyo, which has a Michelin star and is surprisingly famous — not for its traditional ramen but rather its tantanmen, which is Sichuan-inspired. You are limited to one bowl per person and it is definitely worth standing in the long queue for.
This article first appeared on Nov 16, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.