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Kita Food Festival 2022 Is Taking Over Malaysia For 3 Months. We’ve Got the Scoop

Food nerds alert! Chefs from across Southeast Asia are descending on Langkawi, Penang and KL for the biggest Kita Food Festival yet this September, October and November. Hope you’re hungry. 

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Bambangan Sorbet by Chef Darren Teoh, Dewakan

Bambangan Sorbet by Chef Darren Teoh, Dewakan

By David Ngo

Sep 7, 2022

HERE’S THE THING: Michelin and World’s Best restaurants and bars listings—the Academy and Grammy awards of the culinary and bar worlds—are, well, great for the profiles of said restaurants and bars. Careers of chefs and equally cool mixologists ignite in this familiar manner. But, one might wonder what the restaurant diner or bar guest actually gets out of these listings? Besides, presumably, a good meal or drink and the brag factor of actually having dined or drank at such establishments. 

As a counterpoint, here’s what the guys at Kita Food Festival in Malaysia are doing differently in 2022. 

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: KITA Food Festival 2021 at JungleBird
KITA Food Festival 2021 at JungleBird

Instead of glamour-fueled awards, the three-city event gathers the most celebrated chefs from elsewhere in the region to cook alongside their Malaysian counterparts on the islands of Langkawi and Penang, and culminates with a rambunctious finale in Kuala Lumpur. Attendees get to learn about food directly from those who make it and explore regional heirloom ingredients and ideas in a personable and convivial setting.

Also taking place in KL are a series of ticket-only masterclasses and workshops spanning erudite topics such as ancient world wines and home fermentation techniques (kombucha evangelists, take note). An addition to this year’s festival is ‘Conversations,’ Kita’s TED-inspired discussions with key players in Southeast Asia’s food and beverage scene. Perhaps you’ve heard of Wonderfruit, the music and lifestyle festival where heavy-hitting, locavore chefs throw multi-course feasts. Flip the priorities and you get a sense of what Kita Food Festival 2022 is trying to do.

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Chef Darren Teoh, Dewakan, Kuala Lumpur
Chef Darren Teoh, Dewakan, Kuala Lumpur

The idea for Kita (meaning ‘us’ in Malay) was thought up by Darren Teoh, the head chef at Dewakan (No. 50 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2022). Teoh, a self-styled son of the Malaysian food scene is all about talking up local produce and cooking traditions with an unabashedly intellectual edge. “The goal of Kita has always been about building community. We set out to connect as many people as we can through this festival: chefs, guests, vendors, restaurateurs, and even those on the fringes of the industry. We believe that no one should operate in a silo,” Teoh says in a statement released to T+L.

In many ways, Kita is a well-considered way of raising Malaysia’s profile on the region’s food map, one that has often been side-stepped in favor of Bangkok, Singapore, or (pre-pandemic) Hong Kong. To do this, the organizers have placed at front and center the country’s indigenous ingredients and produce as well as the country’s chefs who keep pushing their creative boundaries not as an all-out grasp at fame, but purely because they enjoy the shilling of their craft. 

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Chef Chai Chun Boon, The Datai, Langkawi and Chef Prateek Sadhu (formerly of Masque, Mumbai)
FROM LEFT: Chef Chai Chun Boon, The Datai, Langkawi; chef Prateek Sadhu (formerly of Masque, Mumbai)

This year’s Kita kicks off on the island of Langkawi. September 23 – 25, The Datai’s The Gulai House sets the scene for a six-hand dinner prepared by the likes of Prateek Sadhu, previously the executive chef at Mumbai’s zero-waste restaurant Masque; Dewakan’s Teoh; and The Gulai House’s chef Chai Chun Boon. “All of us grew up being exposed to a melting pot of heritage cuisines from different parts of Asia and Southeast Asia. The setting will be a relaxed sharing concept incorporating explosive flavors. Expect delectable goodness and convivial interactions,” Chai says about his upcoming three-way culinary collaboration on home turf. 

Over in Penang, reservations for the upcoming appearances of chef Andrew Martin from Bangkok’s 80/20 alongside chef Johnson Wong at Gen on October 14 were sold out completely within 48 hours. Originally from Canada, Martin professes that he actually didn’t know much about Thai food prior to a trip he took to Thailand, planned with an ex-girlfriend. “We broke up,” he says, nonetheless, “I was under the spell of an adventure to Southeast Asia and I fell in love with the food here.” The girlfriend might be history, but Martin’s love affair with Thai food has led to considerable success at Issaya Siamese, the short-lived Jaew—which we’re confident would’ve snagged a star if not for Covid—and now 80/20, considered one of the Thai capital’s hottest tables.

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Belacan Wing by Chef Johnson Wang, Gen
Belacan Wing by chef Johnson Wang, Gen

At Gen, in October, both chefs will bring to the table, according to Wong, ways of “exploring the possibilities of local ingredients through a different lens and a new friendship.” So, as Martin suggests, at least for the diners who managed to snap up tickets, “leave your comfort zone. This is how we grow, and realize there is so much out there to be discovered.”

While Kita’s Kuala Lumpur schedule of events is yet-to-be confirmed, what we do know is that off-the-radar joints such as the impossibly named Shhhbuuuleee at the restored former cinema-turned hipster central RexKL, with its emphasis on sake and highballs along with unfussy East Asian menu, are one of a selection of under-the-radar establishments getting their star turns. 

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Chef Johnson Wang, Gen, Penang and Chef Kim Hock Su, Au Jardin, Penang
FROM LEFT: Chef Johnson Wang, Gen, Penang; chef Kim Hock Su, Au Jardin, Penang

“The dining crowd has started looking into something more adventurous and interesting. We are aiming to build a space with a good balance of good cooking and produce, equally great drinks, and good music,” says Shhhbuuuleee’s chef Mui Kai Quan. What people are looking for these days, Mui says, are casual dining spaces to kick back and relax in. 

As an unexpected segue from the festival’s Malaysiana themes, chef Daniel Chavez from Singapore’s Peruvian restaurant Canchita and Ivan Brehm from the one-Michelin star Nouri will be bringing the flavors of Latin American to Joloko. “The idea is to show as a community of Latin American chefs (Mexico, Brazil and Peru) what we have to offer as a region not just on food but also in terms of colors, energy, music, and drinks,” Chavez explains. He along with his wife Tamara will be doing “masterclasses that have the aim to show Latin American recipes that are easy to cook at home but at the same time have an edge.”

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: The Big Sunday Barbecue at KITA 2021
The Big Sunday Barbecue at KITA 2021

As for the finale all-star barbecue that’s set to cap off Kita Food Festival 2022, Chavez has this to say: “It is quite refreshing to see that Kita promotes these kind of initiatives, which shows the vision of the organizers to be inclusive. For the longest time, most gastronomic festivals have only focused on fine-dining events while missing out on the potential of doing massively attended events.” 

Here’s the line-up for Kita Food Festival 2022

Kita Food Festival 2022
Just a few of the participating chefs from around Asia

Langkawi

Friday, September 23, 2022

What:
Culinary Culture Clash 6-Hand Dinner

Who:
Prateek Sadhu (formerly of Masque, Mumbai)
Darren Teoh (Dewakan, Kuala Lumpur)
Chai Chun Boon (The Datai, Langkawi)

Where:
The Gulai House, The Datai Langkawi

Saturday, September 24, 2022

What:
Dinner

Who:
Prateek Sadhu (formerly of Masque, Mumbai)

Where:
The Dining Room, The Datai Langkawi

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Serabai, Oyster Emulsion, Serunding, Marigold Flowers by Chef Darren Teoh, Dewakan
Serabai, Oyster Emulsion, Serunding, Marigold Flowers by chef Darren Teoh, Dewakan

Sunday, September 25, 2022

What:
Masterclass: From Harvest to Table

Who:
Darren Teoh (Dewakan, Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
The Datai Langkawi

Book all September events via The Datai.

Penang

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: Au Jardin
Courtesy of Au Jardin

Friday, October 14, 2022

What:
Dinner

Who:
Andrew Martin (80/20, Bangkok)
Johnson Wong (Gen, Penang)

Where:
Gen (sold out)

Saturday, October 15,  2022

What:
Dinner

Who:
Aitor Jeronimo Orive (Basque Kitchen by Aitor, Singapore) 
Kim Hock Su (Au Jardin, Penang) 

Where:
Restaurant au Jardin (sold out)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

What:
The Great Mezze: A multi-chef cookup

Who:
Aitor Jeronimo Orive (Basque Kitchen by Aitor, Singapore); Andrew Martin (80/20, Bangkok); CC Lee (Juju Lounge, Penang); Tan Hong Tat (aka Wagyu from Communal Table by Gen, Penang); Mathijs Nanne (Suffolk House, Penang); Nurilkarim Razha (Jawi House, Penang);  Johnson Wong (Gen, Penang); and Kim Hock Su (Au Jardin, Penang). 

Where:
China House, tickets RM170

Kuala Lumpur

Cochinito Criollo by Canchita and The Raw & The Cooked by Nouri
FROM LEFT: Cochinito Criollo by Canchita; The Raw & The Cooked by Nouri, photo by Shaun Liew

Weekends of November 19-20 and November 26-27

Masterclasses to be announced (check the Kita website for updates)

Friday, November 25, 2022

1) Who:
Ivan Brehm (Nouri, Singapore)
Sun Kim (Meta, Singapore)
Darren Teoh (Dewakan, Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Dewakan

2) Who:
Johanne Siy (Lolla, Singapore)
Mui Kai Quan (Shhhbuuuleee, Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Shhhbuuuleee

Friday November 25 and Saturday November 26, 2022

Who:
Rishi Naleendra (Cloudstreet, Singapore)
Shaun Ng (Hide, Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Hide

Saturday, November 26, 2022

KITA FOOD FESTIVAL 2022: The Big Sunday Barbecue at KITA 2021
The Big Sunday Barbecue at KITA 2021

1) Who:
Ammie Tan & David Tang (Rosemead, Singapore)
Atelier Binchotan (Kuala Lumpur)
Flock (Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Flock, W Kuala Lumpur

2) Who:
Eelke Plasmeijer & Ray Adriansyah (Locavore, Bali)
Aidan Low (Akar Dining, Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Akar Dining

3) Who:
Daniel & Tamara Chavez (Canchita, Singapore)
Ivan Brehm (Nouri, Singapore)
Joloko (Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Joloko

4) What:
The Big Sunday Barbecue

Who: 
Eelke Plasmeijer & Ray Adriansyah (Locavore, Bali)
Johanne Siy (Lolla, Singapore)
David Tang (Rosemead, Singapore)

5) Who:
Jordy Navarra (Toyo Eatery, Manila)
Gary Anwar (Ember Modern Bistro, Kuala Lumpur)

Where:
Ember

6) Who:
Jeremy Gillon (JAG, Singapore)
Masashi Horiuchi (Entier, Kuala Lumpur) 

Where:
Entier

7) Event to be announced in the Raw Kitchen Hall, Else Hotel

Monday, November 27, 2022
Kita Conversations
Details to be announced

www.kitafoodfestival.com; tickets, prices and further details for November events in KL will be available in early October

Photos sources: KITA

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