Passion for good food

Chef Imran Hamid
Chef Imran Hamid, 40, is the Executive Chef at Thistle Johor Baru

I was born in Kedah, the youngest of six children and understandably, became very attached to my mother.  I remember being her shadow, following her in and out of the kitchen and around the house.  Mother worked hard to prepare sumptuous meals for a growing family and when I was old enough, she gave me little kitchen tasks like peeling small onions – a strange experience that made me weep!

The women in my life are my inspiration and one of the first lessons I learnt from my mother is how fried onions are more fragrant when they are sliced.  And the special recipe for a light but tasty fish curry from my aunt, a cook with the British Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, guided me on the finer points of achieving the best flavours.  Good food is my passion and I’m challenged to reach greater heights of achievement by my wife, who is my first and most important food critic.

Chef Imran is a hands-on leader who works
alongside with his team
After completing my tertiary education with Institute Technology Mara, it seemed like a natural progression for me to go into chef training.  When I graduated, I was thrilled to start my culinary career as a Chef de partie with the Berjaya Resort in Redang Island in 1994.  I did not know it then, but this was the start of a long and interesting working relationship with the Berjaya Group.  

At the end of 12 months, I was ready to develop my career and when I was given the opportunity to join the pre-opening team with the New World Hotel Kuala Lumpur, I did not hesitate to take up the challenge.  I worked at least 16 hours a day here, splitting my time between the bakery by day and the fine-dining restaurant at night.  I believe in working hard because I know that the rewards will follow. 

Equipped with the knowledge and experience in pre-opening operations, I was ready for the excitement when I joined the pre-opening team with the Palace of the Golden Horses in Seri Kembangan.  The six restaurants in this world-class, award-winning hotel presented me with a host of challenges and over the span of 5 years, it helped to hone my skills, not only in the kitchen but also in staff management.  When the Radisson Hotel & Convention Centre Shah Alam was seeking an experienced Chef, I joined the team and enjoyed sharing my experience and learning more from working with a convention centre.

Chef Imran joined the team at Thistle Hotels & Resorts
in 2010
I renewed my relationship with the Berjaya Group when I joined the team in the Berjaya Langkawi Resort as Executive Chef and after 4 years, I was assigned to the Berjaya Resort Redang for the next 3 years.  For me it was like coming home because this was where I started my culinary career.  The next few years of my career were a series of overseas postings to Berjaya properties in Mauritius, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

One of any chef’s aspirations must be to open his own restaurant and I’m no different because my dream of setting up a restaurant turned into reality when my business partners and I launched a Malaysian restaurant we call Penang! in late 2012.  Situated in Westfield London, a shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, our restaurant serves a menu of popular Malaysian street food like satay, laksa noodles, nasi lemak and salads.  While it is a challenge to use the right ingredients to keep the recipes authentic for a discerning clientele, I’m happy that reviews are positive and some even say that Penang! serves one of the best beef rendang in London!

I joined the Thistle Hotels & Resorts at the Thistle Port Dickson Resort & Spa in 2010 and recently moved to Johor Baru as Executive Chef with the Thistle Johor Baru.  Before coming to Johor, I had no idea about the wide variety of flavours in Johor cuisine until I understood Johor’s heritage as a melting pot of Asian, European and Middle-Eastern cultures.  I was determined to taste as many types of food as I could so that I can replicate them in our kitchen and present an authentic Johor Heritage feast for the breaking-of-fast diners during Ramadan. 

Chef Imran in hot action in the kitchen
My Johorean colleagues spared no effort to introduce me to the local cuisine and as we went around for food tasting, I must have sampled briyani rice from at least 20 different outlets in Johor.  Having tasted some good street food in the city, I’m aware that the discerning palates of Johorean diners will demand total commitment from our kitchen team and I’m very proud that we have met their high expectations.  I was undeterred and determined to accept the challenge to serve Johor cuisine to Johoreans because I believe that in any cuisine, when the food is good, the people will come!

As Johor Baru is rapidly developing into a modern metropolis, I’m seeing more eateries being established to serve a wide variety of cuisine that matches the tastes of an international clientele.  The food industry in Johor is going through a boom and I’m excited to be part of the food scene.  I know that food wise, Johor is going to be a very interesting place.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 22 August 2013

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