From tandoori to truffles: How Chef Patrick Keith made the switch

The master in the kitchen. – Pictures by Saw Siow Feng and CK Lim
The master in the kitchen. – Pictures by Saw Siow Feng and CK Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 6 — Voted by The Miele Guide as one of Asia’s top restaurants, Millesime (which means “a good harvest” in French) offers contemporary European cuisine with a focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients.

The chef’s menu reigns supreme here, offering diners an exclusive private kitchen experience where they may savour the chef’s best creations daily.

Originally co-founded by award-winning Chef Max Chin, today the kitchen is headed by Chef Patrick Keith.

But Millesime diners might be surprised to learn that Chef Patrick actually got his start in classical North Indian cuisine. Here’s the story of how he made the switch from tandoori to truffles.

Millesime’s open kitchen concept allows curious diners to have a closer look at the chefs at work
Millesime’s open kitchen concept allows curious diners to have a closer look at the chefs at work

A man for all season(ing)s
The 53-year-old chef is born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, growing up in Setapak and later settling down in Cheras. His entry to the world of F&B was entirely by chance.

“After my MCE (Malaysian Certificate of Education) in 1978, I had wanted to take up an architectural course. At the time, my uncle got me a temporary job at The Bangles, one of KL’s few North Indian fine dining restaurants back then.”

Chef Patrick started off as a pantryman making desserts and drinks. His employers soon recognised the diligent young man’s potential and offered to send him to Kashmir to study at an Indian culinary school if he stayed on as an apprentice.

“So I decided to give up architecture and stay on. I spent two years in the kitchen learning the basics such as making naan bread and tandoori chicken. When it came time for India, my then employer had financial problems so it was deferred,” he says.

Even without the stint in India, Chef Patrick was eager for more learning opportunities in the F&B industry, be it inside or outside the kitchen. His résumé includes two years of managerial experience at KFC followed by his next big break at Hilton.

Scallops with caviar (left). Foie gras dumplings and duck breast (right).
Scallops with caviar (left). Foie gras dumplings and duck breast (right).

“The executive chef at Hilton then wanted someone who could help revamp the menu. I helped him materialise his concept of naan bread rolls, for example. It was a great time for learning; in my 12 years at Hilton, I had the fortune of apprenticing in nearly all the kitchens at the hotel.”

In fact, Chef Patrick’s hunger to try different cuisines and cooking techniques proved that one could be a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-many. From conquering Latin fare at El Nino to becoming the ice-cream maestro at Gelatissimo, every challenge proved to be a new adventure. Truly a man for all seasons (and seasonings)!

Duck leg confit with mushrooms.
Duck leg confit with mushrooms.

The joys of cooking
Despite his vast repertoire of different cuisines, Chef Patrick is most grateful for the early lessons and discipline formed from his Indian kitchen apprenticeship.

“I first learned how to handle a knife. Good cutting techniques are very important as a chef’s basics,” he says.

“Besides knife skills, I also had to prepare the mise en place such as gravies and sauces. Indian cuisine involves making base curries such as chicken, lamb and tomato before cooking to order (or à la minute) by combining these curries with spices in specific ratios.”

Chef Patrick toiled for hours perfecting his naan dough, and arrived at the kitchen early each day to begin heating the clay oven for tandoori.

He smiles in recollection, “The tandoori chicken has many different varieties depending on the marinade used. It could be made into tikka, which is boneless. I had even a special sauce using eggs that is rarely seen at most Indian restaurants.”

Cauliflower soup with smoked herring.
Cauliflower soup with smoked herring.

The real joy Chef Patrick found in his culinary education helped him deal with the long hours in preparing the ingredients and helping with the garnishing; it was a full year before he was allowed by the head chef to actually cook!

“I still remember my favourite dish was the butter chicken due to its creaminess and flavour. I used tandoori chicken as a base. I then deboned it before making a gravy which combined evaporated milk and butter.”

He winks, adding, “It’s not unlike the French cooking I do these days at Millesime.”

Plenty of fine wine options at Millesime.
Plenty of fine wine options at Millesime.

Magic in the kitchen
The latest phase in Chef Patrick’s distinguished career came in 2007 when he joined celebrated Chef Max Chin at Max Kitchen and Wine. He shares, “Through Max, I discovered the art of French cuisine. I then followed him to [email protected] and finally Millesime.”

At that time, Chef Patrick had not heard much of Chef Max Chin. He explains, “Back then Max was more well-known abroad, in Singapore, Thailand and Bali. We were introduced by mutual friends in the industry. Max was looking for an assistant chef at the time, and despite me being three to four years older than him, he hired me!”

Speaking fondly of his mentor, Chef Patrick noted that Chef Max was interested in teaching and sharing, a trait he admired and appreciated.

Chef Patrick has over 35 years of cooking experience, spanning various cuisines
Chef Patrick has over 35 years of cooking experience, spanning various cuisines

“It was tough in the beginning as Max is known to be aggressive while I’m more shy but in the end, our different personalities created synergy in the kitchen,” he says.

Chef Patrick has since taken up the baton to continue driving Millesime’s private kitchen concept where customers savour the chef’s latest creations every day employing only the best and freshest ingredients.

He proudly observes, “For example, our soups are very good because we take the trouble to sautée all the vegetables in olive oil first then roast them in the oven. Next we cook them in stock before puréeing.”

Chef Patrick also notes that while Indian cooking is spicier than its French counterpart, which focuses more on flavours and freshness of ingredients, there are similarities too.

“Compare the usage of butter and cream in French cooking with ghee (clarified butter) in North Indian cooking to create creaminess,” he suggests.

Chocolate soufflé with fruits and ice-cream
Chocolate soufflé with fruits and ice-cream

Chef Patrick’s favourite part of working at Millesime may be its open kitchen concept that allows curious diners to wander closer and have a look at the skill and artistry employed in creating their meal. Here, there are no tricks or shortcuts, only magic in the kitchen created by a master at his craft.

G1-01-3, Ground Floor, Menara Kencana Petroleum, Solaris Dutamas 1, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur
Open Mon-Sat 12pm-3pm & 5pm-12am; closed Sundays
Tel: 03-6211-0648

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail, September 5, 2013.

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