The best quotes from KITA Conversations 2023, Kuala Lumpur


KITA Conversations, opening introduction by co-founders Leisa Tyler and Darren Teoh.

Kuala Lumpur – KITA Conversations gathered an eclectic group of culinary visionaries, including chefs, food thought leaders, restaurateurs, historians, and anthropologists, all under the roof of PJPAC. They engaged in an enlightening dialogue on gastronomy and the F&B industry’s well-meaning concepts. The discussions spanned a wide spectrum, from sustainability and industry setbacks, food waste management, chef’s legitimacy to assessing celebrity chef culture. 

Khir Johari, author of The Food of Singapore Malays  
Khir Johari at KITA Conversations with co-founder of KITA Festival, Darren Teoh

Culinary Causeway: Untangling the Borders to Revealing the Shared Gastronomic DNA of Malaysia and Singapore

“We have all these shared gastronomic heritage. What we don’t want to entangle is this beautiful tapestry; we look into ourselves as people in the region that we shared. We don’t need to untangle the tapestry because we want to keep that picture.” 

Nithiya Laila, TV presenter of  ‘Edible Wild’ on Channel News Asia 
Nithiya Laila

Looking into the Past to Feed the Future

Can Asia’s indigenous plants lead the narrative for a more sustainable diet?

“We are all webs compressed into lines. Local is the new global. We still have hunter-gatherers’ gut, and what your gut wants is diversity. What your community needs is diversity. What a resilient food system needs is diversity. What you wish to when you plant anything is diversity. So, I encourage you to get as diverse as possible, like eating a random thing every week.” 

Defining- and Redefining- Luxury Through Local Ingredients

In the Philippines, diverse regions and their unique ingredients offer an opportunity to redefine luxury through local produce. With a rich cultural heritage and historical influences like the Spanish Galleon Trade, Chele Gonzalez blends tradition and innovation, showcasing the nation’s culinary legacy

“Open your eyes is key to keep evolving. We don’t have truffles or caviar on our menu. When people save a lot of money to go for an experience in a restaurant, they want that. It is, hence, our opportunity to educate and offer something from the local community, ingredients that are  localised and seasonal. In this way, you can give value to farmers and local communities. For me, that is a luxury to the table.”

Steffan Heerdt, Executive Sous chef of Grand Hyatt Singapore 

Transforming Hyatt’s Flagship Asian City Hotel into A Pinnacle of Sustainability: A Case Study

Steffan Heerdt

“For smaller-scale restaurants, it starts in the kitchen to separate certain food products – meat, seafood produce, and see what you have left at the end of the day. As a team, you come together and see where you can start saving. Go out and collaborate with organizations that pick up food waste, to start with.”

Benjamin Lephilibert, founder of Light Blue and  food waste hacker

Following the money: How to Save Big by Reducing Food Waste

“There is a gap in the indicators to assess restaurant operations. Most independent restaurants may undermine their food waste by 3 to 5 factors. The food waste management system starts with taking up the financial aspect of it: baseline, context, dips and spikes, weighted average of cost per kilo of food, inflation, and volume in kilo purchase per cover. Start looking at your bin.”

PANEL DISCUSSION – Trends and the Key to a Successful Restaurant in Malaysia

moderated by Nicholas Ng

(L-R)Moderator Nicholas Ng, Darren Chin, Jenifer Kuah and Raymond Tham
Darren Chin, owner of Michelin star DC restaurant  

“Successes are part and parcel of hard work. That comes naturally as we go along. I’ve learnt to be more tax efficient and more detailed in understanding our numbers, choosing the right business partners by way of experience. Trends tend to come and go; how can this be sustainable? Create your signature, brand, and portfolio – this way is more long-lived”

Jenifer Kuah, co-founder of Studio, Alta Cafe, Alta Pizza 

“I did not start in the hospitality industry. My biggest “failing” was not having that opportunity right from the start. When I left law to pursue this, there were little instructions in terms of hospitality training, which was my biggest challenge. I don’t like to call it a failure, but what I would encourage people to do is, if you want to be in the industry, start young and just run with it.”

Raymond Tham, helms Michelin Selected restaurants Skillet KL and Beta KL

“I remember when we started eight years ago, people were telling us that we would close in 6 months. There were a lot of challenges. We have to observe every day what we can do better. We also learnt from constructive feedback. I still enjoy it, especially for those that used to work with us before and they grew and become someone. It is my way of giving back to the next generation, which I enjoy.”

Diana Chan, former MasterChef Australia champion 
Diana Chan

Elevating Malaysian Cuisine in Australia: Diana Chan’s Culinary Journey through Television

“Not everyone is going to like your food, and that is fine. It is accepting that and understanding from the grassroots level, the providence of the food; I always say this: to create good food, you need to know your ingredients. If you have good produce, you’re halfway there; you don’t need to do that much, and it is about respecting cultures and places.”

John Regefalk, researcher chef and head of culinary innovation at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastián, Spain
John Regefalk

Decoding Enzymes: Novel Culinary Techniques

“As culinary professionals, I believe enzyme could be a new technique and the real science behind it can transform texture and unlock flavours. They can provoke, speed up the processes exponentially. The range where the enzymes work with optimal conditions, based on  – temperate, pH, salinity that will condition the way enzymes work. Enzyme is a global tradition; we always use them unknowingly.” 

Aaron Trotman, founder of NON 

Moderated by Debbie Yong

Aaron Trotman with moderator Debbie Yong

The Trend of Temperance

A fireside discussion on the trend of low alcoholic and teetotalism sweeping fine dining restaurants. Is the natural world and a multidisciplinary approach to technique the future of drinks?

“Doing non-conventional things is really difficult. Trying to convince people that you’re just living your values is one of the most challenging things I learned in the last four years. Believe in what you’re doing makes all the hard conversations worthwhile. If you are doing something different, you will get questioned and challenged.” 

Dr. Eric Olmedo, anthropology of food

The Role of Chefs in Shaping Alternative Food Networks

Examining the influence of chefs on alternative food networks, considering their political, ecological, and economic implications. It also scrutinizes the moral dimension of food systems, highlighting the pivotal role Chefs play in shaping modern society

“Chef has legitimacy that other people or institutions might not have. Chefs have three authoritative powers (traditional authority, charismatic authority, rational-legal authority), and chefs may change society by taking power, the nature of what you do as a chef, and your respect for the produce and your customers. That is where you gain the legitimacy that the Ministry of agriculture couldn’t have, for example.”

Oliver Truesdale Jutras, founder and chef at Re:Growth Regenerative Hospitality

Fundamental Hospitality: Our core values as an industry & why we can (and should) change the world

“Two cores which are relevant and have wide-reaching implications in the hospitality industry – one is the transfer of energy, and the second is empathy. Cooking and feeding people is a transfer of energy between host and guest; you spend your energy, creating something that the guest will enjoy and find restorative. Empathy helps you understand the needs of your guests. People who are good at empathy can predict needs that you are unaware that you have. This is a prototype of amazing hospitality.”

PANEL DISCUSSION – Navigating the Plate: Sustainability and Responsibility in Food Sourcing in Today’s World

moderated by Ivan Brehm

(L-R), moderator Ivan Brehm, Ami Sugiyama, Darren Chin, Oliver Truesdale Jutras
Ami Sugiyama

“The supply could shape the demand and vice versa. For ingredients, we can only price the ingredients accordingly, but we provide transparency. However, in the current landscape – it is hard, such as where it is coming from. Is it organic? Is it certified? These may need to be more transparent, but we try our best. We try to have our people audit the farm, but it’s hard to get complete details of production, so this is one of our challenges and for the chefs as well.”

Darren Chin

“As craftspeople, we uphold our responsibility to advocate things that matter to us. In this, our communication tool is through our food- that, in itself, we are responsible for that. But we also need to be realistic about either going against the capitalist way, or we use it to our advantage.”  

Oliver Truesdale Jutras

“There are a lot of luxury ingredients that are not sustainable, that is, for some reason, are super fetishized. I think those are inappropriate to support in the absence of better options. If you have something you like, you can probably find a sustainable source for it; that is the aspect of work in finding out, and that’s part of chefing. If you take the easy way, this is not the right industry. I think that part of being a chef in the modern context of the global food chain is research. That’s responsible hospitality.”

David Thompson, chef-owner of Long Chim Perth, Long Chim Sydney, Aaharn Hong Kong, Aksorn Bangkok, and more 
David Thompson

The Profound Impact of Culinary Ratings and Celebrity Chef Culture: Integrity in Modern Gastronomy

“Most cooks are their own hardest judges. If cooking is a craft of one own’s expression, then you judge it by your sense of accomplishment. Awards are certainly beneficial for businesses, it is understandable that chefs seek stars and accolades, but it doesn’t necessarily makes a better cook. It could make one a worse cook because then you become persuaded by the validation of the stars and fall into that hypnotic sway by the accolades, and then you start to lose yourself.”


About Kita Food Festival

Kita Food Festival (KFF) is an annual food event bringing together leading chefs and culinary minds from around the world.  The event was created to put Southeast Asia on the gastro-tourism map while creating a community of  people who appreciate good food and where it comes from   The event also aims to give the Southeast Asian dining scene a yearly event to look forward to, while offering inspiration and skills for the younger generation of food producers – and a platform for discussing food consumption and the restaurant industry. Kita means “us” or “we” in Bahasa Malayu. This appreciates that in the act of eating, the production of food and caring for a sustainable future, the festival’s main themes go beyond race, colour, creed and socio-economic status.


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