ahtee private kitchen

Appetisers presented on a large Chinese-style enamel platter. – Pictures by CK Lim and courtesy of Kevin TeeAppetisers presented on a large Chinese-style enamel platter. – Pictures by CK Lim and courtesy of Kevin TeeKUALA LUMPUR, April 8 — Secret supper clubs or “living room restaurants”, where guests may enjoy a unique dining experience operated out of a stranger’s home, was quite the trend a few years back.

Most started as a pastime or as “labs” for testing recipes and getting feedback before launching a full-fledged restaurant later. Many have all but disappeared since.

Kevin Tee (fondly known as Ah Tee) has grown his Hock Chew private kitchen into a full-time businessKevin Tee (fondly known as Ah Tee) has grown his Hock Chew private kitchen into a full-time businessOne exception is Ahtee Private Kitchen, which specialises in modern Hock Chew (Fook Chow) cuisine. Thanks to encouraging responses from guests, owner-cook Kevin Tee (fondly known as Ah Tee) transformed his little private kitchen, started in 2015, into a full-time business last June.

Initially, Tee focused on contemporary techniques and plating with retro paraphernalia. He spent hours perfecting cooking techniques such as scrambling eggs with crab meat, paying careful attention to the fire.

Appetisers were presented in small dishes on a large Chinese-style enamel platter. Classic red wine chicken meesua had a tongsum dan (half boiled egg with runny yolk) as a topping, the way a poached egg completes an Aussie-style brunch dish.

Retro paraphernalia such as tiffin carriers and enamel dishes help create a homey atmosphereRetro paraphernalia such as tiffin carriers and enamel dishes help create a homey atmosphereSweet and spicy fish maw soup (suān là yúbiào) (left). Scrambling eggs with crab meat, with careful attention to the fire (right)Sweet and spicy fish maw soup (suān là yúbiào) (left). Scrambling eggs with crab meat, with careful attention to the fire (right)Tee has since shifted from purely traditional renditions of Hock Chew dishes to more creative, experimental fare. This, he explains, was motivated by the palates of his guests: “Some would find typical Hock Chew flavours too sweet for them; they prefer something more savoury. The challenge is how to highlight the three main elements of great Chinese cooking — (colour), xiang (fragrance) and wèi (taste) – in my own takes of these dishes.”

Some of his new recipes include hand-shredded red wine pork knuckle (shousi hóngjiu lu zhushou), served with steamed lotus buns and sour plum pickles, and shrimp and pork stuffed chicken wings in red wine chicken soup (hongjiu jitang feng yi). Both dishes utilise that Hock Chew staple of ang jiu (red wine) in imaginative ways.

Another popular dish is his “golden pillow” with gingery red yeast pork (jin zhentou hongjiu jiang xiang rou si); the crispy, fried-till-golden mantou bun makes it a bao to relish. Not everything has to be completely modified. Sometimes the flavours only need tweaking, as with the Hock Chew three-colour sweet potato dumplings (sanse fanshu wan); Tee’s version is filled with minced pork, mushrooms and fragrant dried shrimps.

A lettuce wrap of Hock Chew style crab meat scrambled egg (left). Classic red wine chicken meesua topped with a tongsum dan (half boiled egg with runny yolk) (right)A lettuce wrap of Hock Chew style crab meat scrambled egg (left). Classic red wine chicken meesua topped with a tongsum dan (half boiled egg with runny yolk) (right)Traditional three-colour sweet potato dumplings (sanse fanshu wan)Traditional three-colour sweet potato dumplings (sanse fanshu wan)While others argue the private dining scene is diminishing, Tee sees its potential. He says, “While the food scene in Malaysia is getting crowded, the average quality of food is dropping. There’s where the opportunity is, I believe. At least, I hope to share my humble Hock Chew cooking with those who love to eat.”

According to Tee, in order to spread his style of Hock Chew cooking, which has been rebranded as “fusion Hock Chew cuisine” over time, he had to go full time. He explains, “Running this as a hobby wouldn’t be sufficient to maintain the business or do R&D (research & development).”

Tee’s current operations involve conducting a maximum of five sessions a week. There are two possible slots each day, for lunch or dinner. He caters to a minimum of six diners per session, and no more than 14 guests in total. If this sounds like a breeze, Tee reveals that he schedules up to four days every week for R&D.

Hand-shredded red wine pork knuckle (shousi hongjiu lu zhushou), with sour plum pickles (left). Steamed lotus buns filled with the shredded red wine pork knuckle (right)Hand-shredded red wine pork knuckle (shousi hongjiu lu zhushou), with sour plum pickles (left). Steamed lotus buns filled with the shredded red wine pork knuckle (right)Hock Chew red wine meesua (Fuzhou ganshi hongjiu mianxian) with chicken roulade and English poached egg (left). “Golden pillow” with gingery red yeast pork (jin zhentou hongjiu jiang xiang rou si) (right)Hock Chew red wine meesua (Fuzhou ganshi hongjiu mianxian) with chicken roulade and English poached egg (left). “Golden pillow” with gingery red yeast pork (jin zhentou hongjiu jiang xiang rou si) (right)He says, “I need the time to create new recipes and to improve the existing dishes. For example, I created a new flavour for old-school popsicles using blended fresh pineapple, infused with salty asam boi and lime peel. The idea for dessert, my gula Melaka sago with vanilla ice cream and sweet rice wine, came when my wife and I had jiuniang tangyuan (wine stuffed dumplings) in Taipei.”

Given that he is no longer drawing a monthly salary as an employee, Tee has expanded the scope of his private kitchen business to create new revenue streams. One promising avenue is producing frozen Hock Chew food products for sale to online customers throughout Peninsular Malaysia.

He says, “I’m making two of my signature dishes — sweet and spicy fish maw soup (suan là yúbiào) and Eight Treasures sweet glutinous rice with yam paste — as freshly frozen items. It’s available on certain dates each month as we are still in the midst of creating a suitable SOP (standard operating procedure) for ordering, production and delivery.”

While he is now an experienced private kitchen host and cook, Tee will be the first to admit that he isn’t a chef as he has never been formally trained in the culinary arts. He shares, “For my dry Hock Chew red wine meesua, I wanted to complement it with French chicken roulade. On YouTube, it looked really easy. However, though I followed the steps exactly, I failed 10-15 times before I got it right!”

Shrimp and pork stuffed chicken wings in red wine chicken soup (hongjiu jitang feng yi)Shrimp and pork stuffed chicken wings in red wine chicken soup (hongjiu jitang feng yi)Old-school pineapple popsicles with asam boi and lime peel (huáng lí suān méi bīng tiáo) (left). Gula Melaka sago with vanilla ice cream and sweet rice wine (right)Old-school pineapple popsicles with asam boi and lime peel (huáng lí suān méi bīng tiáo) (left). Gula Melaka sago with vanilla ice cream and sweet rice wine (right)He grins, observing that at least he could eat his failures. Having not-quite-there-yet chicken roulade for lunch four days straight is certainly motivation to master the recipe swiftly.

Not unlike even the most polished of fine dining restaurants, a private kitchen experience isn’t meant to be incident-free. Tee recalls times when certain dishes that were great during trials that didn’t turn out quite right during actual dinners. He says, “This made me realise that I must always have a Plan B, C and D as back up while serving the newly tested dishes.”

Ahtee Private Kitchen is looking to expand to another state next. Tee says, “Maybe next year, in 2019. At the same time, I’m seeking a suitable candidate to join my private kitchen business. There are other large markets that are open to private dining to venture into; possible locations include Johor Baru and Singapore.”

Happy guests dining at Ahtee Private KitchenHappy guests dining at Ahtee Private KitchenThough he’s no longer clocking in at the office, as a father, Tee has a similar morning routine as other parents. He says, “I have to wake up before sunrise and send my kids to school on time. However, as a private dining cook, I also get to have breakfast with my loved ones, do a bit of gardening so my guests can enjoy the view before entering my home, brainstorming while wandering at the wet market…”

And, of course, his favourite part about running a full-time private kitchen: “Food tasting to get inspired!”

Ahtee Private Kitchen

Book a session with Ahtee Private Kitchen by calling/WhatsApp 012-3830478 or message at www.facebook.com/ahteekitchen. Each session has four courses priced at RM98 per head (6-14 pax), RM118 per head (3-5 pax) and RM128 per head (2 pax).