YOU can say home-grown chef Candy Han was living the life few could only dream of. Working and training in beautiful Sicily — where it was a norm that fresh local Italian ingredients were used to conjure up new items on the menu daily — he found his calling in Italian cuisine.
Unlike most chefs who train in France and master the art of French dining under brutal but brilliant Michelin star chefs, Chef Han consciously chose to study Italian food instead.
“You can find Italian food everywhere. There is pasta all around the world … pizza, too. Italian food is accessible to everyone, and that is why it’s so popular. French dining is harder to come by, harder to appreciate, and therefore more difficult to make a living out of,” he explained.
There is another side to the world of chefs, though. When you start at the very bottom, you start by doing menial tasks that quickly become repetitive and tiresome. For example, Chef Han was once made to incessantly peel potatoes — dozens of kilogrammes of them, but it was all part of the learning experience.
Today, Chef Han, 30, oversees Baci Italian Café at Citta Mall in Petaling Jaya — a simple, no-frills restaurant where a host of Italian food infused with dashes of dishes inspired by other types of cuisine are served.
His favourite dish on the menu is what he calls “a manly dish” — oxtail stew with a twist, as it’s served over delicious garlic mashed potatoes, an idea that he got from watching people eat shepherd’s pie.
“What I noticed was that when people eat shepherd’s pie, they push aside the mashed potatoes on top to get to the delicious filling at the bottom. So I thought, why not reverse it so that the mashed potatoes are coated with gravy and thus taste better?” said Chef Han.
The stew itself is worked on for hours, utilising an enormous amount of oxtails in the process to perfect the recipe. The final product is a one-of-a-kind oxtail stew, brimming with ingredients that Chef Han insists are a secret, despite several attempts to extract just one of the ingredients out of him.
As journalists feel most at home holding a pen, and those in the banking industry feel most comfortable seeing numbers flashing on a screen, Chef Han never feels complete without a knife in hand. Chopping ingredients puts him in a Zen state of sorts — it is when he feels happiest.
In fact, so deep is his passion for food that a huge tattoo on his arm consisting of his favourite food is in the works. It is perhaps only rivalled by his love of bikes; Harley-Davidson bikes, to be precise.
Chef Han insists that the term “overrated” should not be generously dished out with the booming performance of local upper-end restaurants in recent years, as diners do not know how much hard work, blood, sweat and tears were put into restaurant operations, and exactly how hard it is to keep the business running.
“Overpriced? Yes, there are places like that. But I believe that for all the effort that any chef has put into creating a menu that he or she can be proud of, and for the long, hard days working in the kitchen, no place deserves to be called ‘overrated’. It is simply a matter of differing opinions among individuals. Some people like it, some don’t,” said Chef Han.
Luckily, the food served at Baci is nowhere near overrated or overpriced. Their legendary oxtail stew is priced at just RM23.90 (a steal, in my opinion, for its hearty deliciousness), while pastas are all priced between RM15 and RM20. Some other favourites include the chicken avocado sandwich (RM16.90), Build Your Own Salad (RM23.90) and chicken and mushroom pie (RM18.90).
Baci Italian Café is located at Lot G47, ground floor, Citta Mall in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya.
For more information, log onto www.baci.com.my or call (03) 7831 8051
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 26, 2014.