The making of a modern Italian-inspired restaurant with Malaysian influence: a conversation with Chef Daniel and Miki of Gooddam

Co-founders of Gooddam – Miki is in charge of the Front-Of-House and Operations, with Chef Daniel helming the kitchen and menu creation.

Kuala Lumpur – This is the story of how a talented young Malaysian culinary student made his way through Italy tasting, experiencing and absorbing every fibre of what Italian cuisine had to offer, and that provided him with an ethos that propelled him into opening a full-fledged restaurant back home in Kuala Lumpur.

Gooddam, a modern Italian restaurant with a hint of Malaysian and Asian influences, is a refreshingly original addition to the Petaling Jaya food scene, nestled in a lush, airy lifestyle haven that is The Hub SS2.

You’ll always be in excellent company in Gooddam, where the name derives from a few good things combined: the restaurant was founded by two good friends with pure intentions to build a good, wholesome company that serves good food to the good people in the neighbourhood with adventurous palates.

Apart from a shared love for food and the industry, they also share a common delight in catchy phrases like exclaiming, “gooddam!” when experiencing something truly extraordinary.

Here, Set the Tables had a conversation with co-founders Daniel and Miki on the humble beginnings of Gooddam, how to read an Italian menu, and what it takes to introduce new types of cuisines to local palates. 

To Chef Daniel, leadership is not a position to gain, but a posture of giving.

In the final year of his studies in culinary arts in 2014, Daniel got the chance to transfer to ALMAs Culinary Program in Italy for a year. From there, he cut his professional teeth at the two Michelin-starred Piccolo Lago in the northern Italian province of Piemonte. He studied Italian cooking methods, ingredients, and food culture under the tutelage of chef-owner Chef Marco Sacco, Paulo Griffa, and Mattia Rancati, which would become his primary inspiration for Gooddam. To hone his technique, he also staged at Mume in Taipei and The Studio in Copenhagen.

During his time in Italy, Daniel embarked on the most indulgent food trips of his life. Back in Malaysia, diners perceive Italian cuisine to consist mainly of pasta and pizza, and more pasta and pizza, which is not their fault because not many operators have succeeded in challenging the common demand for bolognese and carbonara. He quickly realised that he wanted to introduce Italian food beyond pasta and pizza.

Italian cuisine is intensely regional like this Garganelli (pic)- a type of pasta typically from the region of Emilia Romagna.

Daniel’s food pilgrimage started from the north of Italy beginning in Piemonte, and then travelling to neighbouring regions such as Lombardy, Veneto Fruili-Venezia Guilia, and then down towards Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio, and parts of Europe.

He discovered that Italian cuisine is intensely regional. Each region of Italy is culturally diverse and each bears distinctive culinary characteristics. Enthralled by the language and cultural history, he soon discovered that even pasta differs from region to region using a specific ratio of flour and water, with majority of pastas using egg as the binder. The shape of pasta is also as significant as the sauce combination so that the texture, taste, and consistency complement the shape of the pasta itself! 

I am a Malaysian chef cooking regional Italian cuisine. Every seasonal menu is focused on different parts of the Italian regions, allowing guests to embark on a journey, just like how I did.” Chef Daniel is committed to putting a definitive mark on reimagining regional Italian cuisine within the Malaysian food scene.

Daniel takes pride in adopting the basic principles of Italian cooking – he prioritises culinary technicality juxtaposed against the simplicity of fresh ingredients just the way nature intended, all the while pulling in his Asian-Malaysian roots that are showcased in recognisable subtlety – he takes advantage of the flavourful aromas of local ingredients as much as possible.

The dining experience at Gooddam is welcoming, brilliantly buzzy and enormously convivial, Gooddam is a place to revel in the delight of modern Italian-inspired dining.

The transition from pop-ups to restaurant

The backstory: Brimmed full of inspiration and knowledge, Daniel was determined to bring back home what he experienced in Italy. Together with Miki, and another friend, Amanda Huang, they began doing pop-ups in existing restaurants around Kuala Lumpur. According to the founders, the concept of Pop Up Dining KL is “a pop-up restaurant concept where we run our unique and innovative dining services from place to place”.

Opening of Gooddam was not smooth sailing 

The success of Pop-Up Dining KL garnered something of a following thanks to a series of successful pop-ups. After over three years, in November 2018, business partners Daniel and Miki launched Gooddam, a 30-seating capacity restaurant, where its main dining room offers an intimate dining experience with an open seating concept that adds to the ambience combining a sense of privacy with the atmosphere of family dining. Miki is in charge of the Front-Of-House and Operations, with Daniel helming the kitchen and menu creation. 

During the early days and fresh from the success of Pop-Up Dining KL, Daniel and his team crafted a menu around their best-selling dishes. However, the response was lukewarm because diners couldn’t put a finger on the type of Italian cuisine that Gooddam was serving. 

With many further reiterations of the menu, countless trials and errors, and as time passed through MCO, Daniel and Miki fine-tuned the menu to what it is today.

“We would have frequent conversations with our guests. It is a constant balancing act of achieving a flavour profile that is authentically Italian, with subtle local flavours that our guests are familiar with.”

Like having an onsen egg with Zuppa di Fagioli (a soup made of creamy cannellini beans), or dark chocolate ice cream alongside grappa braised ciku. We use a mixed of ingredients, be it locally sourced or air flown, for example, Local Kurau Fish or Alba Truffles, as long as it fits into the modern progressive Italian menu that we are working on.” said Miki. 

 

Exclusively on Gooddam’s weekend lunch menu is the lobster fettuccine with trout roe and bottarga.

Gooddam only serves lunch and dinner set courses. The menu features an offering of criminally underrated dishes; the incredible La Sbroscia, a traditional fish soup originated from Lake Bolsena in Central Italy, or Cinghiale (Wild Boar Ravioli) which is a Tuscany delicacy with modern Asian influences, Parpadelle Al ragu di Cinghiale , Peposo, to create the kind of food that warms your soul.

Reading an Italian menu 101

Whats on the menu: At Gooddam, the menu structure follows what youll normally see in Italy. If you read closely, you will notice that the Italian menu is designed in a way that you choose dishes from each meal category. 

  • Course 1: Antipasto (starter)  –  This consists of either hot or cold starters. In this menu, the guests will be served pane (bread) and cicchetti (snacks/ tapas).
  • Course 2: Primi (first course), normally, this is a carb-based dish served as a staple for primi, like risotto, pasta, or ravioli. Primi is a prelude to the main course 
  • Course 3: Secondo (second course), the third course, which is normally the main dish may include meat, poultry or seafood
  • Dolce: dessert 

The wine list is similarly comprehensive, taking in a wealth of different Italian regions. Signature wines include Chianti, which is the most widely known Italian red wine from the Tuscany region. If you prefer a mellow red wine, Nebbiolo from the northern side Piedmont region would be a good choice. Amarone is another rich dry red wine from Veneto, the southern part of Italy. And not forgetting the Italian ‘Champagne’, Prosecco!

Buon appetito! 

Italian flavours, local produce 

In the details

I love exploring the combination of sweet and savoury elements in a dish. The flavours are a delicate layering of Italian elements with Asian ingredients.” This is evidently shown in this menu, such as Sweet Panzanella”, inspired by a Tuscan bread salad. Previous creations were a hit, such as Roasted Chestnut Ice Cream, Carbonara and Passionfruit tartlet, Liver mousse & chocolate bonbon, Damak chocolate ice cream with Grappa braised Ciku and Buah Keluak

Daniel will carry out a rigorous, wholly inclusive sequence of R&D for each new menu launch. Introducing four unique seasonal cuisines within a single year certainly keeps the staff on their toes. He personally selects the regions to focus on and leads his team through a series of recipes, ideas, and the seasonally appropriate ingredients to use that month.

Each station will then be assigned some homework to bring back, think about, and then create dishes to be presented to the team. The final creations on the menu will be unanimously voted on by the entire team. For instance, the theme for the upcoming menu launching this July would be Southern Sicily and Sardinia, with key words like “charming” and “bright colours”. The team is also experimenting on other cooking techniques and the exploration into new ingredients such as the hibiscus flower.

Every menu is a learning experience for the entire crew, and the flavours are adjusted to fit regional preferences. Nerding out on the details, while insisting on having a thorough R&D process paid off. 

We take great lengths in exploring the highlights of food and wine from all across Italy’s twenty regions. If we can make something ourselves, we do – pickles, bread, cured seafood, ferments, and even rum! and pasta of course – the rest is carefully sourced locally, Asia and of course, Italy.” He takes pride in incorporating local produce, like Bidor ducks, local asparagus, cordyceps, Sarawak pepper, and kelulut honey to elevate regional Italian dishes.  

Gooddam’s yearly affair of Tajarin Pasta

One of Gooddam’s signature dishes is the Tajarin, a yolk pasta traditionally from Piemonte. Daniel explains, There are 2 versions. The first, it is served with our homemade Guanciale which we cure in-house, butter and Parmigiano. The second version is served with purely sage-infused butter and Parmigiano. During the end of the year, additional shaved Alba White Truffles on top is a must in order to enhance the flavour and bring the dish to the next level.”

Tajarin is available every year end from November onwards. 

Building the culture of Gooddam 

Daniel leads his team with humility and likes to maintain a low profile. He prefers to stay behind the scenes and let his sous chefs take the helm during service. 

“We work as a team. I will be completely honest with my team if there is anything – a dish, ingredients, techniques in which I am not an expert in. We will learn how to make it together, if my chefs are willing to try.” 

Gooddam will be opening a handmade pasta restaurant soon by the end of 2022.

During the pandemic, one of his chefs was particularly eager to learn hand-made pasta during the pandemic. Together, they discovered how to make pasta from various regions and launched a takeaway pasta menu. This concept has flourished to the point that they will be opening a handmade pasta restaurant by the end of this year! Watch this space for updates on when this will take place.

To Daniel, leadership is not a position to gain, but a posture of giving. At Gooddam, the team are given the freedom to explore and grow their craft. Although leading a team of seven in the kitchen where Daniel, aged 28, can be seen as a peer, together with Miki, they have developed a culture where everyone is empowered within their scope, and recognizes their space to contribute towards growth. 

“Stay humble, be alert, observe before you speak, and you will learn tremendously by paying attention to your surroundings.”

– whether this is the kitchen, from your service personnel or guests, and interaction between FOH and BOH,” said Daniel, when asked what makes a successful chef-owner.

The significance of having your techniques and fundamentals in place in order to continue for the long run was another thing he emphasised to aspiring young chefs who wishes to join his team. 

Onwards and upwards

Four years onwards, the restaurant has certainly made its mark in paying homage to true Italian food layered with subtle Malaysian flavours – this is an introducing into an era of modern Italian dining in Kuala Lumpur in its own ”gooddam” way.

Daniel, Miki, and the team have only two goals in mind: “Maintaining the quality is our emphasis right now and expanding our kitchen team.” This is in addition to serving a Gooddam!” overall experience to guests.

Image credit: Gooddam. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Interview and written by Theri Burhan. Edited by Lim Aileen.

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