KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — A kuih by any other name would taste as sweet, surely?
Not quite Shakespeare but that is certainly the notion when it comes to partaking of our local teatime delicacies. Startup food artisan Kuih.Co would beg to differ.
Kuih.Co is founded by event planner and antique collector Jeff Henry, who is originally from Medan, Indonesia. A professed fan of Malaysian culture, his background in organising various events helped him realise what seemed to be a saturated kuih market was still relatively untapped.
For Malaysians, a wide selection of colourful kuih-muih is often an indispensable part of jamuan petang or teatime. Getting hold of some delicious pulut inti or ondeh-ondeh isn’t the issue; sourcing treats that are free from additives such as artificial food colouring is more of a challenge.
Then there is the issue of how closely the kuih you’re savouring hews to the original flavour. With so many old recipes lost with the passing of the years and the preference for simplifying the process of making kuih, what with rising costs and all, staying authentic can be a hopeless cause.
Jeff believes in trying, anyhow. He shares, “Kuih.Co is created together with a friend of mine named Leo Lee who is also passionate about food. We both love Peranakan culture and we launched this brand because we want to bring back the taste of tradition to the younger generation.”
To reach out to a wider audience, the duo has tapped into Jeff’s expertise and designed products — how the kuih is presented and marketed rather than altering the taste of the kuih itself — to fit the needs of various events.
This meant not limiting themselves to either individual customers or larger corporate accounts such as banks. In this day and age, survival of a small food artisan may require servicing both market segments until some critical mass is reached, if ever, and one segment proves more profitable than the other.
Jeff explains, “So we added in more creative elements to make our gift sets which are suitable for corporate events and birthday parties, weddings and family celebrations — any occasions.”
Creating a simple to understand yet diverse range of kuih platter options was key. Various Kuih.Co offerings — such as angku, kuih talam, kuih lapis, bingka ubi, pulut panggang and kuih koci — are available in platter options of 10, 20, 25 and 35 pieces, to provide flexibility to fit the size of the party or meal.
Their colourful Nyonya kuih are arranged in rattan sieve baskets to evoke further nostalgia for yesteryear. Jeff says, “We are proud to make our kuih sets as art pieces as we love to add art elements into our products. This not only creates visual enjoyment for the customers but also cheerfulness.”
Another strategy is to remain cognisant of our country’s different cultural celebrations and adapt appropriately to each. Jeff says, “We customise thematic gift sets according to occasion — Full Moon, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Mooncake Festival and even Christmas.”
Kuih during the Mid-Autumn Festival and Yuletide? Why not? Thriving in the food and beverage (F&B) industry these days sometimes requires thinking outside of the box when so many competitors appear to be offering the exact same products.
Besides specialising in assorted kuih platters, Kuih.Co has been focusing on a number of festive curated gift sets of late. Their signature platter is a Longevity Gift Box, aptly named The Shòu (Chángshòu means “longevity” in Chinese).
Jeff enthuses, “For the first time ever in Malaysia, The Shòu is a combination of Cantonese and Peranakan culture that symbolises longevity, good health and prosperity — perfect for birthday celebrations or even self-pampering.”
That last notion would sound odd in any other year, but a global pandemic does alter perceptions; anything that invites longevity would be very welcomed as a form of self care nowadays.
From the very beginning, Kuih.Co's operations have been revolving around online orders and delivery, and Jeff confirms this will continue. The uncertainties of the Covid-19 situation and different iterations of the movement control order (MCO) have made the duo leery, for now, of brick-and-mortar setup with its high costs.
Yet it is precisely the pandemic and the onset of MCO that provided the opportunity for this new startup to materialise. Jeff explains, “As an event planner, MCO 1.0 affected all events that were postponed until a later date. After we diverted our focus into this local delicacies business, we were very lucky to have received quite a good response from the public.”
The idea is that their customers may enjoy the kuih on its own merit but also as a different form of gift giving. Buah tangan, albeit delivered, when you cannot actually drop by a friend’s house or a client’s office.
Jeff says, “MCO 1.0 was definitely a good time for customers to do gifting to their loved ones since no social gathering was allowed back then. For MCO 2.0, we started to upgrade our packages to gift sets as well. Our products are Muslim friendly thus we get a lot of good reviews from our Muslim customers too.”
Despite its name, Kuih.Co has also introduced a savoury menu of traditional delights such as fried popiah, kuih kahwin and a double Peranakan punch of Nyonya mee Siam and Baba curry puffs. These are sometimes assembled as Savoury Lunch Packs for office and corporate events.
Clearly the food itself is a draw but the packaging and presentation matter greatly too. In this vein, the newest addition is a 10-inch seri muka cake. Called Huā (Chinese for “flowers”), the cake is kuih at its most extravagant, showered with edible flowers and 24K gold flakes.
Beyond this luxurious offering, the ever-optimistic Jeff has faith that the outlook for Kuih.Co will be even more promising in the days to come. He shares, “Our vision is to have our own physical stall and get more public awareness. It’ll also make it more convenient to everyone to ‘fix’ their kuih cravings anytime.”
One wonders if the public is truly craving for a giant kuih style cake covered with edible gold flakes, but if they do, they know where to get it.