Robb Report Malaysia witnesses the ultimate food fight at The Banjaran Hotsprings in Ipoh

a fox life rumble in the jungle

Jeff’s Cellar, a unique wine bar set within the surroundings of a limestone cave at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Ipoh, usually provides a respite from the tropical heat outside. Back in January, however, the cave became a sizzling-hot battleground during the filming of an episode of Fox Networks Group Asia’s programme, ‘Celebrity Chef: East Vs West’. As part of a five-episode series, Hong Kong TV chef and actor Nicholas Tse challenged Canadian celebrity chef David Rocco to an epic cook-off after they were both blindfolded and encouraged to taste a local dish.

Chef David Rocco vs Nicolas Tse

In this instance, given the beautiful surroundings of Ipoh and its famous limestone hills – not to mention its reputation as an culinary paradise for gourmands – the mystery dish was revealed to be rendang tok, a royal Perak specialty. “I knew rendang tok was a meat stew of some sort, but certainly didn’t expect it to be so fibrous and dry,” Rocco later recalled, having remained seemingly unfazed throughout the filming process. “My first thought was ‘I could do this better’ – and it was true!” Wasting little time, and with limited time to cook lunch for a group of 30 people, each celebrity chef set to work on their own rendition of the dish.

The results were distinctive, carefully considered, and pleasantly surprising. Tse separated the elements of rendang tok and presented a tasting plate of thinly sliced beef on a bed of rice noodles fried with rendang spices, accompanied by a fresh beansprout salad – another nod to Ipoh. A samosa filled with mascarpone cheese and Szechuan pepper, and a sliver of yau char kway topped with rendang – flavoured foam rounded off Tse’s entry to the competition. For Rocco, on the other hand, the country’s multicultural heritage served as a platform for his own
interpretation: “It was my first time in Malaysia, so I wasn’t previously aware of the rich food scene.

“I was surprised by the mix of cultures and three distinct cuisines. Being exposed to amazing Chinese, Indian and Malay food was a food lover’s dream – and don’t get me started on the durian…” His dish also reached towards his own roots by alluding to the Italian method of stracotto, which involves cooking beef in a sauce on a low heat for an extended period of time. Rocco’s rendang tok came served on a chapatti – his way of paying homage to Malaysia’s vibrant and inclusive street food traditions – with beansprouts sautéed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and croquettes made from rendang and potato.

Without revealing who the winner of the challenge was, we can say with a degree of authority that Rocco’s interpretation was clearly the crowd’s favourite. They weren’t the only ones to appreciate the unusual filming location, either. As Rocco exclaimed: “Jeff’s Cellar is this magical restaurant which I had the pleasure of eating in. The fact that it’s a natural 2.6-million-year-old cave is remarkable, and dining there gives it this mystical feel. It was quite the amazing experience – oh, and the food was pretty good too.”

The Banjaran Hotspring Retreat

Sign up for our Newsletters

Stay up to date with our latest series