Chef Paul Chia adds a bold new approach to grilling and smoking with keruing wood at his new Peranakan fusion cuisine restaurant, Wood and Grill
MALACCA’S Peranakan cuisine is loved by Malaysians for its aroma and taste, but imagine elevating authentic flavors with modern smoking techniques and grilling with locally grown forest wood.
Wood & Grill, the latest restaurant to open in the Paradigm Mall, serves local fare with a distinctive twist developed by chef, founder and culinary director, Chef Paul Chia.
Born and raised in Malacca, Paul has more than 24 years of experience as a chef and has worked in 15 countries around the world, from the United States to Kazakhstan.
Among others, Chia worked at The Setai, a five-star luxury resort in Miami Beach, United States; Hilton London Green Park in England and various five-star hotels and high-end restaurants, even in top cities like Shanghai.
In 2020 the chef had to return to Malaysia due to the lockdown, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise for local food lovers.
It has since opened not one but two Peranakan restaurants; KamCheng in Malacca in December 2020 and another, KC & Co, in Plaza Arkadia just last year. Wood & Grill is his third restaurant.
A different concept
For her latest venture, Chia retained the essence of authentic Peranakan taste but explored a new approach: Nyonya-Western grilled fusion food.
It’s a completely new concept, utilizing the techniques and skills used in Western cooking, including grilling and the smoky flavors of wood chips.
“As a chef, I always know what elements can elevate a kitchen to another level. Using the wood smoking technique, it is a marriage of modern technique and traditional Peranakan food, ”Chia said.
An unexpected idea
To find the right marinade and flavors, Chia tried and tested an abundance of spices and herbs, before focusing on what would become his signature recipes for marinades and sauces.
“I choose particular spices that are not overbearing in taste to marinate the meat, as some spices do not work well with smoking or grilling techniques, for example any type of plant root”.
“The ginger will prevail over the wood smoke, so I chose a light flavored spice. One of the best ingredients that works well with grilling and smoking is black pepper, which works great with all of these techniques. “
It was a “wow” moment when Chia finally served us one of his signature dishes. She presented a glass dome, which she raised to release a cloud of smoke that dispersed to reveal her plate. It was truly a unique experience!
Inside was a Nyonya grilled meat platter consisting of mouthwatering chicken, lamb and cheese chicken sausages, served with sambal timun nenas (pickled pineapple cucumber) on the side.
The chicken meat was incredibly juicy, flavorful and grilled to perfection, and was served with three sauces: sweet and sour sauce, mushroom sauce, and laksa cream sauce – all full of flavor and additions to the already delicious meat.
In addition to grilled meat, their signature dish is Nyonya chicken chop, which Chia says has a good hint of black pepper with a subtle flavor of evaporated milk.
His best seller is Lemak Lamb Shank. The tender and flavorful lamb sits atop paku pakis (fern leaves) cooked with a divine, rich and aromatic sauce made with coconut milk, turmeric and spices. It is incredibly delicious and a must try!
The meat was braised for six hours with celery, onion and carrot, before adding spices to give the meat flavor and juiciness.
“A western chef would call me crazy if I say I want to use ‘Lemak Spice’ on a lamb shank because ‘lemak’ won’t get absorbed into the meat, but I did my own experiment to make sure the lemak spice was absorbed into the meat.
“I did some research and made the Nyonya plate with heart and soul, and it is evident when my clients leave only bare bones on the plate.”
Meaty tiger prawns are the highlight of the pineapple prawn curry. The creamy gravy is infused with the acidic flavors of semi-ripe pineapple chunks and pineapple puree, along with asam keping (tamarind slices) and leaves an extraordinary taste on the palate.
Another distinctive taste was Sambal Hitam, made of sambal belacan and extracts of buah keluak, a fruit difficult to find in big cities, but which Chia adds with creativity in its Spaghetti Hitam Garlic-Oil with Octopus Kunyit Bakar.
We also tried the Duo Sotong Kangkung, consisting of grilled Joo Hoo squid and shrimp, kangkung timbale and a generous peanut sauce, as well as crisp tempeh and tauhu goreng chili garam – really satisfying.
Suffice it to say that the entire menu was not only tempting, it also reflected some of Chia’s favorites during his childhood days in Malacca. He brought back the nostalgic taste with top quality meats and seafood, enhanced by his own creativity.
For 12 dishes on the menu, Chia burns locally sourced keruing wood chips to add extra special flavor, complexity and aroma.
“Keruing wood is special in that it has oil stains on the inside of the logs and releases an aromatic scent when the wood chips are burned,” said the chef, adding that keruing wood smoke gives the food a flavor. lemon or lemongrass.
“The aroma of Keruing increases our sense of taste and makes kitchens much tastier, spicier and brings out the flavors of spices, and that’s what makes food special,” Chia explained.
Although a variety of woods are available in Malaysia, Chia studied the characteristics of all local woods and collected keruing after discovering that it could withstand low temperatures, has natural resin and lasts longer.
In North American and European countries, apple or cider wood is commonly used for grilling, barbecuing, and for smoky flavors. “But I wanted to support the local wood industry,” Chia confessed.
Keruing is so special to the chef that it also plays an important role in the interior design and furnishings.
The tabletops are made from solid keruing, while small pieces are used to recreate a keruing tree on the wall.
Chia explained that wood-fired food is considered a luxury as most local food uses charcoal, which is a quicker and cheaper option. “We are serving fine food at an affordable price,” she said.
In addition to modern technology in the food world, the chef’s experience, knowledge, skills and distinctive concept set Wood and Grill apart from other Peranakan restaurants in the Klang Valley.