Young Malaysian chef wows crowd in Moscow

Model Kate Moss is among chef Abdul Rashid celebrity client. - Reuters pic
Model Kate Moss is among chef Abdul Rashid celebrity client. - Reuters pic

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MOSCOW, Sept 21 — A young Malaysian chef, Rashidin Abdul Rashid, is making waves among the jet-set and new rich in the Moscow restaurant scene with his Pan-Asian fusion cuisine.

And the 32-year-old from Seberang Perai in Penang makes no less than RM70,000 a night at RONI along Petrovka Street, right smack in the high-end shopping district where the priciest and swankiest Moscow department store TSUM is located and just a stone’s throw from the Red Square and Kremlin.

That’s not all. His creativity in the kitchen and rave reviews from food critics have also catapulted him to fame and cook private dinners for the rich and famous, among them Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.

He has also been flown on private jets by Russian billionaires to cook at theme parties in Monaco and other parts of Europe. And he can count on celebrities like supermodel Kate Moss and actress Elizabeth Hurley as among his customers.

So what is exactly Rashidin’s Pan-Asian fusion cuisine that has earned him his celebrity status and making him more popular by the day?

“It’s about making use of what is available or known in Asian cuisines and preparing them to suit the Russian taste. So I take samples of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean and other types of Asian cooking and use my creativity to turn them into dishes that will be well-liked by the people here,” explained Rashidin, who used to work at the KL Hilton and Shangri-la in Kuala Lumpur. For example, if one takes apart his Kamchatka crab noodles, it is actually the famous Malaysian dish of “mi kari”, which usually has a heavy dose of chilly paste, coconut milk, chicken and cockles.

But Rashidin has tweaked all that to a dish that has a subtle hint of chilly stirred in coconut milk and milk encompassing rice noodles with adequate portions of the gigantic Kamchatka crab meat and fresh vegetables as garnishing.

A diner has to fork out almost RM50 for a small bowl but that is chicken feed to the scores of well-to-do people who come to his restaurant for “every bit of Asia”.

Rashidin offers some 70 types of dishes ranging from shashimi, dim-sum, rendang to kimchi at his restaurant.

But he is always experimenting and he usually does this in the late afternoon after the busy lunch hours and before the dining crowd fills his restaurant at night.

He wins the hearts of his diners by letting them try his new creations for free and if the feedback is good, then that dish will be soon on special offer or the recipe is filed away for use at another time.

“I have even mee mamak done in a style that’s well-liked by the Russians,” says Rashidin, also known as the innovative and trendy Chef Mamu, who came to Moscow seven years ago.

It all started when he had finished his two-year cooking stint at a hotel in the Maldives that he was asked by another chef to try it out in Moscow.

From a so-called “apprentice”, he became a sensation after six months in a restaurant owned by famous Russian restaurateur Arkadij Novikov, who three years later asked Rashidin to start a new restaurant, the present RONI.

The creativity in Rashidin makes all the difference and sets RONI apart from other restaurants in Moscow. And his personal touch with the diners takes his reputation several notches higher. Rashidin takes the trouble to sit down with diners after their meal and ask for feedback. He makes them feel on top of the world when he tells them that they could call him ahead of their next visit so that he could whip-out something to suit their palate.

With his status as a celebrity chef who occasionally cooks for the Russian prime minister, such a gesture makes for terrific public relations for Rashidin. “The trouble with such an offer is that sometimes the diners, many of whom have become my friends, won’t want to come to my restaurant if I am not working on certain days,” he explains.

Rashidin’s growing reputation among the elite crowd has also made Malaysia’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, Datuk Zainal Abidin Omar, extremely proud.

“When people find out that I am from Malaysia, they often ask me whether I had dined at RONI’s,” he says. Tan Yang Thai, the Minister Counsellor at the Malaysian embassy here, says Rashidin has been able to capitalise on the rising demand among well-to-do Russians looking for exotic tastes.

“He does it very well because of his creativity in coming out with a variety of dishes from almost all parts of Asia,” he said.

For Rashidin, it looks he is going to stay in Moscow for a good number of years. “The money is good, the people here are willing to spend and so here I am,” he says, adding that not knowing the Russian language when he first came was not a barrier for him as he made his food do all the talking.

“My boss told me to concentrate on producing good food. To be successful as a chef in a foreign country, you need to give full concentration to your job and nothing else,” says Rashidin, whose boss, Novikov, has also helped him to open a Chinese-style noodle shop just a few doors from RONI on a profit-sharing arrangement. — Bernama

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