Social distancing has kept people off the usually busy streets of Kuala Lumpur. Just like millions around the world, Malaysians are staying indoors. In the initial days of the Movement Control Order (MCO), people tried to readjust their lives and attempted to find some semblance of order in the disruption. And now, a little more than a month later, in half-acceptance of the new normal, Malaysians have to come recognise that this is how we have to be for a while. The F&B industry has been hit hard and many are trying to mitigate their losses or find new opportunities for the sake of their trade and those who depend on them. Jeff Ramsey is one of them.
“Its estimated that 70 to 80 percent of F&B businesses are going to disappear. I think that the number will be even higher,” says Michelin-starred Chef Ramsey, and he feels that it may take years before the restaurant scene fully recovers—which is uncomfortable to hear as Malaysia has always prided itself on its vibrant food scene.
Ramsey knows a thing or two about working fast and making things work. The chef and co-owner of Babe in Kuala Lumpur has done what his rich work experience has taught him: finding a solution. “Restaurants have extremely high overheads and slim margins. So my initial concern was for how we are going to pay for everything,” says Ramsey. While the Malaysian government’s subsidies have helped greatly in salaries for his staff, Ramsey knew that he had to do more to dampen the impact of the lockdown. “We pivoted to a delivery menu that has nothing to do with our restaurant menu, because in times of crisis, nobody cares about luxury branding. We have to give people what they need,” he adds.
Jeff Ramsey knew that he had to make food people couldn’t easily cook at home, dishes that require skills and special, but limited, ingredients that were available to him. Another advantage that he had was that their business was fairly small and that enabled him some flexibility to make changes and adapt to the current situation. And he did. And he hasn’t stopped making changes. “We are shifting our strategy again and are launching a new menu. We have added additional items to our street food edition menu, like Wagyu Japanese Croquettes, Gyoza and Matcha Tiramisu, and also we are launching make-at-home Ramen Kits. The ramen kits will come with a social media challenge also. People are cooking at home in a big way and we want to make it fun. I think that people cooking more will help restaurants in the end as it just means more education and focus on food.”
Ramsey remains optimistic while trying to very quickly implement these changes. “We don’t have time but we still have to create,” he adds. But looking forward to tomorrow, and after the lifting of the MCO, Ramsey has a plan in place. “We will continue delivery and explore other opportunities as well.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Ramsey and his team were in the midst of creating and launching a new concept for Babe, one that took a year of planning and preparation. But even in these tough times, Ramsey still sees a way to go ahead with his plan—perhaps with a few more tweaks than expected. “For sure, we will need to adjust the way in which we do it,” he says.
Try your hand at cooking, here’s Jeff Ramsey’s recipe for the Japanese staple Tamago Kake Gohan (TKG).
For the Dashijoyu (dashi soy sauce):
1 Pinch Hon-Dashi Granules
4 Eggs (place in boiling water for 15 seconds, then drain)
4 Tablespoons Japanese Soy Sauce
4 Bowls of Freshly Steamed Japanese Rice
Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the soy sauce and the hon-dashi. Whisk with chopsticks until smooth and uniform. Divide the mix over the 4 bowls of rice and whisk the rice with the egg mix until frothy. Those who are averse to raw eggs may substitute with pasteurised eggs.