KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 — When news broke about the opening of The Chairman Group's restaurant in Pavilion Damansara Heights Mall back in November, it sparked off a series of heated exchanges among food lovers about whether this was an outpost of The Chairman in Hong Kong.
That famed Hong Kong restaurant topped the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2021.
Many were confused. Then angry. Statements were issued by both parties to clarify matters.
The Chairman International Limited that operates The Chairman in Hong Kong issued a statement to say they do not have any operation in Malaysia or any association with any restaurant opened in Malaysia with the name "Chairman".
In a statement issued by The Chairman Group Malaysia, they explain, "We'd like to clarify that we do not have any affiliation with the Hong Kong restaurant. On a positive note, we are excited to share that Mr Chan, one of the founders of Chairman Hong Kong and our advisor, will soon be introducing a new establishment in Malaysia, showcasing exciting innovations and locally-inspired dishes."
What most people missed was that both restaurants have a common link, namely Mr Chan.
In an article by South China Morning Post, Danny Yip from The Chairman Hong Kong confirms that Chan is indeed one of the founders of the restaurant in Hong Kong.
So who is this mysterious Mr Chan, referred to in both statements?
Malay Mail spoke to Arthur Chan about his plans for The Chairman Group Malaysia.
In Malaysia, the 65-year old Hong Kong native has partnered with Halice Lim, Ken Leong and Stanley Gan for the restaurant. Then there is The Chairman Group Malaysia Head of Operations Kelvin Leong.
Chan explained that his relationship with The Chairman Hong Kong started when he, Yip and chef Tang Tin, joined hands to open the restaurant in 2009, as Chan said, "because they all like to eat."
He was (and still is) a major shareholder of The Chairman Hong Kong.
Chan explained that with the business, "If you got three wheels pulling it, this will destroy it." That is why they appointed Yip as the front man.
As Yip, who was relatively unknown that time, having just returned from Australia, Tang was the one in the limelight in the beginning since he had a reputation within the culinary circles, until he retired.
Chan also credits Yip for winning the top restaurant award from Asia Best 50's Restaurants in 2021. "it's all Danny's effort. It's all his work.He is the key man."
On the other hand, Chan's role was a happy one, as he would be invited to sample new dishes and to discuss company matters.
Chan, who is now retired, made his money in the garments and yarns business many years ago, where he operated Chanar Garment Manufacturing Limited.
His background is an interesting one: his father operated a restaurant in New York for 30 years. But what refined his palate was sparked from his garments business.
As he had to source for materials, he would visit various places in China — leading him to taste the best dishes when people feted him with meals.
Since he loves good food, he is careful to not ruin his palate. "I would only eat a little, even though it's my favourite food as it is more to taste," Chan said.
Alcohol, smoking and spicy food is on the forbidden list. He does make an exception once a year for an annual toast with his business partners.
He decided to open The Chairman Group Malaysia as he now flies back and forth to Malaysia, since he is under the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme.
Even though he is retired, he still works to keep active.
The venue at Pavilion Damansara Heights Mall was carefully selected by his team as they realised there's a gap in the market in the area for a Chinese restaurant.
When they put up the hoarding in Pavilion Damansara Heights Mall to announce their imminent opening, they didn't expect any media attention since from Chan's viewpoint, he had clarified matters with Yip.
Rather than be upset with the reactions, he is happy. "I am not angry at all as it shows that we do so well in Hong Kong until we have such devoted fans."
Moreover as he is still a shareholder of the Chairman Hong Kong, he admitted, "No way I will jeopardise the restaurant in Hong Kong as I'm the major shareholder there and it will cause losses to myself."
He also shared that it's not easy to open a restaurant, as, "one needs heart". He spent months here teaching the chef and sharing his own taste memories of dishes, until they are cooked to his satisfaction.
Even the logo, fashioned after plum blossoms with five petals, was thought up by Chan to represent the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami.
When asked why he chose to call his Malaysian restaurant "The Chairman", he e explained, "Because I am the chairman....I have always been the chairman for all of my businesses. It just happened that when Yip studied in Australia his restaurant was also known as The Chairman."
Tentatively, The Chairman Malaysia will open its doors by mid-January, as confirmed by Halice Lim.
She also added that the space spans 4,900 square feet which will fit about 26 tables with a seating capacity of around 140 people. There will also be five private rooms.
"Our restaurant is different from others, you cannot compare to the normal ones like Overseas or Tai Thong," Leong added, as it's envisioned as fine dining Chinese food.
Some of their principles are similar to The Chairman Hong Kong.
"The goal is to showcase the best ingredients, using the best cooking methods to bring out the best tasting dish, without any added MSG, sugar or salt," said Chan.
Abalone, sharks' fins, bird's nests — prized ingredients in Chinese restaurants — will be absent here, just like in the Hong Kong restaurant.
Chan believes you don't need those items to make a good dish. Moreover, it goes against his conscience; bird's nest is what he terms as "breaking homes".
With his experience in China where he tasted the "world's number one chicken", he said, "with just a simple ingredient, the dish can be very good if the ingredient is fresh and the cooking is done well".
Beef will also be omitted. It's a personal choice of Chan's since he doesn't eat beef at all, as he believes there are other good things to eat in the world.
"I do not intend to do the same things in Hong Kong so there's no copying." That's because, Chan emphasised, the chefs are different, the ingredients and so forth.
In the Chairman Group Malaysia, they will be showcasing the eight major cuisines in China.
Leong explained that a particular favourite dish of Chan's could be selected for instance, from Sichuan, which gives an insight to diners on what constitutes a good Sichuan dish.
"We will not be coming up with new dishes but using recipes from grand masters in China," Chan said.
Through his travels in China, he has amassed a collection of recipes for dishes not known to many.
One of them is the "world's number one chicken", said to be prepared for the emperor in China.
Chan spent three years looking for the recipe and it was through a stroke of good luck, he found it.
He had met some friends for a meal and got to talking with their mutual acquaintance who then said she knew the recipe.
He recalled, "She called her father and just told him to tell me (Chan) the full detailed recipe, saying don't ask so much about who or why. Her father actually thought he was sharing the recipe with a potential son-in-law!"
Leong explained that diners will be given curated set menus to select from, whereby they choose their choice of protein.
"We will also change it often based on what ingredients are available from time to time, hence it's seasonal. If an ingredient is not up to standard for that day, they will swap it with something else."
"At the end of the day, the name of the restaurant is The Chairman so we hope everyone that comes to the restaurant will feel like a chairman," said Leong.
The Chairman Group Malaysia will be opening in Lot 5.26, Level 5, Pavilion Damansara Heights, No. 3, Jalan Damanlela, Kuala Lumpur. Instagram: @thechairmangroupmy
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