The creative director of Quirk & Associates and co-founder of hip Malay restaurants OpenHouse and the new Dusun at BSC talks about his favourite sources of inspiration, his passion for Malaysian cuisine and produce and how he would really like to spend his day off.
Options: Congratulations on the new Dusun restaurant at BSC. Tell us what diners can expect from the experience.
Andrew Wong: We take familiar comfort food such as pastas, pizza and sandwiches and put a local spin to it, using some of the incredible jungle ingredients we previously used at OpenHouse at KLCC. We also focus the menu around traditional kampung cooking styles, using api (fire), asap (smoke) and bakar (grill).
The decor looks particularly amazing. Tell us what the design vision and process were like.
Quirk & Associates is our sister company and they were tasked with Dusun’s design. Brian [Quirk, design director] and I had travelled to Tulum, Mexico, for a birthday event and we were inspired by its similarity with Bali and Mykonos in terms of its beach clubs and tropical boho sense of chic.
Dusun is also a restaurant with a social agenda, we believe. Tell us more.
What inspired both Brian and me is that we are also trying to give back via this restaurant. We have a long-term sustainability programme in place with the Malaysian Nature Society, as a means of offsetting our wood-burning, and cutting out the use of plastics where possible. We also formed long-term social partnerships with a few foundations and charities. For example, part of the proceeds from the sale of in-house bottled water goes to a nominated cause. We also want to be a kinder type of operations and cognisant of the mental health of our employees. I want to make it clear we are not yet a ‘green’ restaurant, as it is hard to cut out chemicals and plastics completely in our industry. There are a lot of changes to go and we won’t get it right immediately, but it is the first of many steps.
What are the key differentiating factors between your two restaurants?
OpenHouse draws its menu ideas from heritage recipes, particularly near-extinct dishes, and our revival of it. Dusun, meanwhile, is more playful in its menu. But we aim to keep traditional kampung cooking methods alive by using ember-cooking and smoking to make the dishes.
Why the name Dusun?
‘Dusun’ means ‘orchard’ in Malay and it is meaningful to us, as we see this as the fruitful garden after OpenHouse first rediscovered all these amazing wild produce for our original menu.
The response to Dusun has been phenomenal, with bookings shutting your website down and now operating only by a first come, first served policy. What do you make of it all?
After two years of pandemic-induced stupor and living off home deliveries, there is an element of people wanting to reconnect over a meal. It is natural human behaviour. I know Covid-19 isn’t completely eradicated yet and we still have to adhere to required SOPs but, yeah, people want to return to some normality in life ... whatever the new normal is.
What inspires you?
Travel! That is my single source of a good jolt in stirring creative juices. Unfortunately, it has been two years since I did any real travel. Hopefully, that will change very soon for me.
But now that the world is really opening up, what is likely to be your first port of call?
I’d love to go back to a snowy mountain and throw myself down its face while on my snowboard. So, I’d have to say Whistler, Canada. It is the only time I don’t think of work, as I am fully focused trying not to land on my butt! Besides, the all-white landscape and the sensory deprivation combine to work like a filter for me, washing out all colour, shape and scent. It’s like a detox. And then, with a clear head, I am able to absorb new things.
What are you reading right now?
I am rereading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which I read about 12 years ago. It is about the metaverse. And guess what’s the buzzword du jour now?
What are you listening to right now?
Predominantly electronic chill music, which is great for unwinding after a long day at work or just zoning out with.
The F&B industry is notoriously stressful. What are some of your favourite ways to cope and unwind?
Besides listening to music with my noise-cancelling headphones, I enjoy nights out with friends, where I can just let go and be myself. Also, long hot showers. It is a great panacea after a nutty day at work.
Where or what do you like to eat off-duty?
I really love simple food — and also sinful food. There are times when I do have a day off and nothing is more satisfying than going into A&W and ordering a Coney Dog. I guess it’s a childhood thing, when it was such a treat to have one as a schoolkid.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
Holed up in the apartment in Whistler. It’d be snowing outside while the fireplace is crackling inside and I’d be in bed, with a big bag of chips in hand, watching godawful talk shows in the morning.
This article first appeared on Apr 11, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.