Hi Hakim! Nice to meet you. Can you describe what is the concept of URBN Kitchen, in terms of your creativity or being creative?
First off, I need to explain to you what Gourmet Consultant is. GC is a business I started which tries to help restaurants with their branding whether it is a new business that has just started or an existing one that’s already established. We started two years ago and while we already have our clients not everyone knows us, so that’s how URBN Kitchen came into play. [It’s] the flagship restaurant for Gourmet Consultant to show people just what we can do and to build that trust with them. In terms of creativity it basically comes from our knowledge and experiences when we were overseas in China, Switzerland, and my business partner who was working with me on this, was in Australia previously working at a few prominent hotels. Our mentors there showed us from scratch how to make a certain dish- from the taste to the flavor, to how it’s presented gets to the customers. So the aspect of creativity, that’s infinite honestly. It’s all in your imagination- you can dream about it but one way or another you just have to do it.
[related]So where does your inspiration usually come from? Are there particular people around you or that you’ve met who have had some impact on you?
Yes, one of them was my business partner; we met when we worked together at the Empire Hotel. He saw some quality in me that nobody else saw, how my brain thinks and how I communicate and talk about food so he enhanced and nurtured my skills in terms of how to describe food and what ingredients go together. The other person [who influences me creatively] is Heston Blumenthal. He’s more towards molecular gastronomy so he creates things that go from a simple dish to something extraordinary.
An example of this is his Iced Chocolate, which he’s actually made clear as water but once you drink it it’s a very intense chocolate taste. This amazed me… it’s like play. Going outside the box, more than the box basically. There’s this saying I read (I think it’s from Muhammad Ali) that goes ‘If your dream doesn’t scare you, then your dream is not big enough’. So that’s it- if you stay in the box, and that’s your norm and your comfort zone, you’re never going to grow. So that’s where [URBN Kitchen and Gourmet Consultant] are taking it, we’re always trying to reach another level and once we reach that and get comfortable, we try to go a little further. That’s how we created our menu as well.
Being progressive is always pushing the boundaries, it’s always thinking outside the box- something that hasn’t been or cannot be created; anything is possible. It’s all in your dreams, it’s all in your motivation
Yeah, your current menu is pretty interesting! There are a lot of unusual flavor combinations especially for Brunei where trends tend to come in quite late. Are you consciously trying to bring in current food trends that are happening overseas, to get Brunei up to speed faster?
Yes definitely, at one point one of our goals and our vision, was to bring Brunei to the same level as restaurants overseas with the way it’s presented, the service level, different combination of food ingredients. Where I was working in China, the chef taught me that when you think about a dish you have to think about [elements like] the sweetness, the texture, and color. So with color that’s because you eat with your eyes first and that’s where the pictures and the things on Instagram go. So once that looks really appetizing, for sure you’ll be enjoying the rest of the meal. But for sure we’re always trying to progress with the trends and watching how they plate. How we plate here at URBN Kitchen, that’s already been done actually but we’re going in the right direction where Brunei is a bit more involved into the food industry where we can see one day a proper fine dining restant here. But [URBN Kitchen] is not fine dining, it’s way far away from that. So one day hopefully, there’ll be a restaurant here that could even be a Michelin three-star. Doesn’t have to be me [laughs] it could be someone else you know! But we are heading to that direction.
Do you feel it’s important to inspire others the way you’ve been inspired by your food heroes and their creativity? Is that something you consciously want to pass on to your diners, suppliers, your staff, to do better and think outside box?
Yes, I totally agree with that and I do want to carry down the things I learned from where I studied, where I worked, because back in the days one thing is working in the hospitality industry is never easy. It’s one of the last jobs you’d want to have a career in- it was looked down on back then. But I had a lecturer in high school who said after I did my foundation who asked me what I wanted to major in. I had no idea and asked him what would fit me and he said hospitality because of my personality, and the way I talk about food in my assignments. I also want to contribute to the economy; the international standards, yes I do wanna bring that into Brunei, and to develop the hospitality and service industry, bring service levels to where restaurants in Asia – Malaysia, Singapore – are actually doing it. To me that’s always pushing the boundaries, it’s always thinking outside the box- something that hasn’t been or cannot be created; anything is possible. It’s all in your dreams, it’s all in your motivation.