Chef James Won, owner-chef of Enfin by James Won, is transforming the local culinary scene, as a firm advocate of sustainable farming. With an insight into his new menu, the highlights include an expanded amuse bouche course, a push to replace white wine in the kitchen with new fermentation techniques, and the chef has expanded their use of local produce grown on his own farm. Yes, that’s right. The menu now boasts produce straight from the farm to the table – but not only that, Chef James has fermented Koji and rice wine in-house that replicates the properties required to substitute white wine.
Features writer, Emmilyn Yeoh spoke to Chef James about his food-growing techniques and the changes he wishes to see in the Malaysian fine dining scene while Web Editor, Elyza Khamil tucked into the 4-course delight.
You’ve been getting your hands dirty, going into the forest to forage for ingredients. Are you working on developing your food-growing techniques?
I’ve spent the last two years doing a lot of research, trying to find what is feasible and readily available. When it comes to foraging ingredients that are unique to Malaysia, it is a collective effort with the natives in the jungle. We are working on farming on a smaller scale that is centred around high-quality produce and sustainability.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
Nature and the people who are surrounded by the beauty there, somewhere in the wild, but people are not actively making an effort to seek it. For example, we have wild avocados, pepper leaves, arugula, and sorrels. These are fancy ingredients that are imported, but are actually right in front of us. It all comes down to taking responsibility to champion what we have to offer.
How are these new ingredients you discover reflected in your food creations?
It has changed the way I structure my menu. When encountering unfamiliar ingredients, your mind is almost like an empty canvas, and there are no limits. This allows you to have more complexity, depth, and originality in a creation, which ultimately elevates the dining experience.
What changes do you wish to see in the fine dining establishments in Malaysia?
Diners usually expect a cheese cart in restaurant, but why don’t we have a tropical fruit cart? From my excursions to the wild, I have discovered a variety of exotic fruit such as caramel-tasting bananas, which could impart an exciting touch to a very refined meal. A love to feed the mind, that’s what we need.
So I suppose with that in mind, when you’re offered to go for a new menu tasting by one of the most renowned Chefs in the Malaysian dining scene – you always say yes.
In true Chef James fashion, the night started off with dessert because, well – do we really need a reason? Always changing the perception of food, Chef James created a truffle ice cream with a basil waffle cone dessert that when paired with a glass of Krug champagne, the honey nuances of the champagne will crackle on your tastebuds. Who knew that truffle and basil are Krug’s best friends?