Fine dining has taken a toll in the current pandemic.
For Haikal Johari, executive chef at Alma by Juan Amador, this isn’t the first time an unexpected challenge was presented to him. Five years ago, he found himself paralysed from the neck down after a motorbike accident in Bangkok. That would’ve left most in despair, but Chef Haikal worked hard to get back on his feet and continued to make strides in his recovery journey. He even led the restaurant in receiving its first Michelin star in 2016. The key to his success? “Don’t give up. That always should be the last option.”
Here, he teams up with Huawei to showcase the elements of a classic barramundi dish, as well as a creative plating technique that viewers can learn from.
LSA: F&B is in a bit of a situation during this pandemic — how has your restaurant coped during this time?
Haikal Johari: F&B, especially for the fine dining scene, is in a different situation now. The restaurant business has been greatly and badly affected. But we try to keep the jobs for our loyal staff who are very understanding. We are doing takeaways, the same as with all other restaurants in Singapore now. The only thing that is changed is the kind of food we do –-we’re showcasing comforting and easy-to-eat dishes, while still maintaining the quality in terms of ingredients and presentation.
During this situation, to serve fine-dining food at home in boxes and plastic containers is something I feel, isn’t very appropriate. Fine dining is about the whole experience: from the moment you decide, dress up and make your way to the restaurant. It isn’t just about the food.
LSA: Food means many different things to many people. What does it mean to you?
Haikal Johari: Food for me as a chef is the way we communicate with our diners. I believe that food can talk. A simple example — regular chicken curry and your mum’s curry chicken, is very different. There is a lot of love and emotions in the latter.
Food to me is like a dialogue, the understanding between two people. A diner eats the food at the restaurant and thinks of how the combination came about, how the chef managed to merge the flavours together. It is communication between us chefs and the diners.
LSA: You recently received the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award 2019 — what does it mean to you?
Haikal Johari: The Goh Chok Tong Enable Award 2019 is the very first award given to people with disabilities who have kind of achieved something in their profession. I feel that it’s an honour. I’m humbled by this award because even after the accident, I have a really serious disability. However, I could still continue with my job as a chef with help from others, and at the same time, be recognised at a national level. This has compelled me to want to give more back to society. I would like to help train more young chefs to be better in their craft for the future.
LSA: Do you have any life lessons you would like to share, particularly during this difficult time?
Haikal Johari: What I learned as a life lesson during this difficult time is exactly the same as when I had my accident five years ago. Just prior to the accident, just two or three hours before, life was normal. I was on a bike, planning to go to work and in just an instant, everything was taken away. It is the same in this situation now with the coronavirus.
We cannot take things for granted, because you never know what will happen the next day. Just make the best of the worst, and be as prepared as you can in a time this happens. Something else I have learned is not to give up, and hard work is very important. Sometimes you may be lucky and find the right opportunity, but with the right amount of hard work put in, the possibility and percentage of overcoming difficulty or achieving success are higher, so don’t give up. That always should be the last option.
LSA: The entire video was filmed with Huawei P40 and you took some clips on your own too. Which feature do you enjoy using the most?
Haikal Johari: I was surprised when we first tested it, by the video features and the quality and definition of the camera – even colours come to life very well. This was surprising as I have always used another kind of phone, so to use something new after 15, 16 years is quite an eye-opener for me.
For more information about the Huawei P40 Series, visit their website here.