PETALING JAYA, Nov 22 — Who is Jenifer Kuah? Cake designer, coffee lover, curb-side gourmet market organiser, and for those in the know, former corporate legal eagle – this multi-hyphenate is a champion of good food first and foremost.
From her humble beginnings starting a bistro serving Western food and cakes in a quiet PJ neighbourhood to spearheading Food Bites, the premier celebration of artisanal food for the masses in KL, Kuah has seen it all.
Her biggest dream is to bring foodies together, and to encourage more conversations and critical thinking about good food. Sounds like one delicious journey.
You started Food Foundry to go after your dream of making good food for a living. How true is that today?
So many years later, eight years to be precise, I am happy to say that Food Foundry is a neighbourhood favourite. The focus is still on making good food affordable and ensuring that we serve the community that we are in. And yes! I am on doing exactly what I set out to do so many years ago, i.e. carving a career for myself in the food industry. I love waking up every day, going into work, discussing recipes and interacting with my team. I live and breathe my job and it feels wonderful.
Who were your early customers? Has your customer profile changed over time?
My early customers were people who lived and worked around Section 17, PJ. We were more like a curiosity back in the day. There were no cafés to speak of in the area. We served Western meals and cakes. Customers who found us tucked in the corner shook their heads at what they considered an appalling choice of location.
Over time, the customer profile has certainly changed; we now attract a mixed group of families and young adults, especially after our makeover two years ago. Food Foundry still remains a casual, comfortable place to hang out in.
What is the most popular item on your menu?
We are known firstly for our mille crêpe cakes. We started out with three flavours; now we have a range of 12 flavours available daily. I am rather proud of the flavour profiles of the cakes as they are unique only to us. Salted almond caramel is a big hit.
We have adapted the cakes to feature contemporary unique flavour pairings to keep up with the times and changing tastebuds. However, we are still dedicated to making the cakes from scratch, from the custard to the crêpe batter. All cakes are made fresh daily, with great, natural ingredients.
How long did it take for Food Foundry to reach this level of success?
We are very proud to have been around for eight years. It took us about four years to get really busy. When we got more successful, we had to learn how to deliver a consistent standard of food to our customers. Situations changed daily and it was a steep learning curve.
On hindsight, what was most important was that we kept going at it, making mistakes and learning from them. We work with a great team consisting of like-minded people and that makes the big difference in delivering the goods.
You are a lawyer by training and from the corporate world. What was it like taking the plunge into F&B?
My biggest challenge was the fact that I had minimal experience in the F&B industry. The only relevant experience I had was waitressing in a Chinese restaurant during my university days. With only a passion for food and no network for suppliers or staff, it was akin to jumping off a cliff into a body of water which I had no idea the depth of!
You’ve branched out to new ventures such as a coffee bar (Butter + Beans at Seventeen) and organising gourmet food markets (Food Bites). What motivates you to keep innovating and starting new businesses?
I love food and I love doing what I do. Pastries and cakes are what I know best. Combine that with a cup of good coffee, and the moment is just perfect. We had a little space so my partner and I thought, why not coffee?
And thus Bread + Butter at Seventeen was born. Our inspiration for new outlets flow from our personalities and the lifestyle we enjoy. Being able to translate that inspiration into a physical space is simply the best. Of course, we are only able to do this with the help of our team.
Food Bites is more of a personal journey. After being in the F&B industry for the last eight years and finally arriving at a comfortable point in the business, I decided that I would like to offer new and young entrepreneurs a platform to try out their food business ideas. I also wanted to encourage them to think a little more about the food they eat and where it comes from, to be a little more thoughtful in the way we view food.
What’s next for Jenifer Kuah?
We just opened a coffee-centric café called Feeka on Jalan Mesui. There are cakes, pastries and light meals to accompany the coffee. There aren’t many comfortable spaces in the city centre where one can have coffee and hang out. We hope to fill that void with Feeka.
BG-8, Happy Mansion, Jalan 17/13, Section 17, PJ
Open daily 11am - 10pm
Butter + Beans at Seventeen
BG- 1a, Happy Mansion, Jalan 17/13, Section 17, PJ
Open daily 8:30am - 8:30pm
Foodie Fest 2013 presented by Food Bites
The Square at Publika, 1 Jalan Dutamas 1, Solaris Dutamas, KL
30 Nov & 1 Dec 2013, 11am - 6pm
Feeka Coffee Roasters
19, Jalan Mesui, 50200 KL
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on November 21, 2013.