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February 3, 2019

Christian Recomio: Running a restaurant – Sitka style

Christian Recomio of Sitka Studio in Kuala Lumpur talks about his restaurants, relocating and the importance of the local community.
February 3, 2019

Christian Recomio is arguably a melting pot of cultural influences and skill. With both Scottish and Mexican roots, Christian already has a diverse palet of cultural influences and flavors at his core. Adding experience from both Barcelona (Restaurant Santa Maria under chef Paco Guzman) and Copenhagen (Restaurant Noma under chef Rene Redzepi), Christian’s food soul is well-developed and multifaceted

His journey to Malaysia led him to Jenifer Kuah, a passionate F&B/restaurant entrepreneur, and together they birthed the concept of Sitka, in Kuala Lumpur. Sitka’s heart is the local produce and environment, focusing on the best and freshest produce Malaysia has to offer. Now, they’re stepping it up a notch by bringing fine dining to Malaysia with their latest opening of Restaurant Studio in 2016.

Tell me about your culinary background? You spend some time at Noma…

My family has always worked with food – my Scottish mother is a classically trained chef, and my father is also constantly in the kitchen, he has Mexican roots and instilled in me a love for that cuisine. My stage at Noma helped shape my perception of ingredients and source.

You are the founder of the acclaimed Moonfish Cafe in Aberdeen, Scotland. What inspired you to relocate and open a restaurant in KL, Malaysia?

I came to Malaysia to visit my sisters. I met Jenifer during that trip, we discovered that we share a similar passion for food. When the idea of starting Sitka was mooted, I decided to stay. The produce is so different from what I got in Europe and the UK, yet similar to what I’ve been exposed to in Mexico. So its challenging, yet comforting – creatively a good space.

What brought you and Jenifer together?

“Food and a similar philosophy in how the culinary and guest experience should be. We are passionate about what we do, and we don’t compromise on quality.”

Tell me the story about Sitka Studio?

We had started Sitka Eatinghouse, and it was doing well. People love the casual, Modern Asian take, the selection of wines, the ambiance. The team was strong and our Head Chef, Kim, was ready to take the reins. So the next step was to take that experience a few notches higher with Sitka Studio.

What is the vision of Sitka?

For both restaurants, we want to offer a contemporary menu of delicious, produce-driven food. Cuisine that is comforting yet creative, and a good experience. We want our guests to come, trust that we will give them a great time and feel at home.

Tell me about the concept of both your restaurants? The difference between Sitka Restaurant & Sitka Studio?

Sitka Eating House + Winebar offers casual daily brunches, lunches, evening cocktails and sharing dinners. In terms of design, it is minimalist, allowing our diners to color the monochromatic setting.

Sitka Studio is open on Friday nights and booked events only. The vibe is slightly more upmarket here, but not at all stuffy. We serve 5-course menus influenced by ingredients, travel, old recipes, and many cuisines. Alongside we offer a stellar selection of natural wines. The interior is reminiscent of a Scandinavian dining room – warm wood tones and lighting, clean Sibast chairs, a bright open kitchen.

What is the ambition of Sitka?

To nurture our team, use good produce, build relationships with artisanal producers. To create camaraderie and strengthen the network within the F&B industry in Kuala Lumpur.”

What does it take to run two restaurants?

“Passion, dedication, a kickass team and good music.”

Describe the Malaysian food scene. Was a restaurant like Sitka something you felt was lacking in the Malaysian food scene?

At the time we opened Sitka (as a test kitchen back then), there were many cafes embracing the Aussie café culture. We pared that experience down, and in doing so, slightly refined it. When everyone was doing Aussie brunches, we served Mexican and Taiwanese street food (baos and tacos) which were already popular in NYC and London. The test kitchen gradually evolved into the Modern Asian that we do today. For Studio, we wanted to make fine food accessible and fun, and in KL, it’s pretty difficult to find an establishment like that.

Describe the difference between establishing and running a restaurant in Malaysia compared to the UK?

The industry is still quite young here, and what it lacks is the trust. In partners, producers and contemporaries. That’s the camaraderie we aim to build with Sitka.

You guys are known for embracing the produce of Malaysia. Establishing close relationships with independent producers. Tell me about this relationship? Why is it important?

When you support a local producer, you’re giving them the confidence keep going, and you’re instilling a pride in ingredients and skill sets that are important to the culinary culture of the area.

You seem to be traveling a lot. Is this important to continually evolve your cuisine?

When I travel I’m exposed to new cuisines and techniques and that in turn creates endless possibilities.

What does guest experience mean to you?

Delicious food, smooth service, good people, a great playlist and fun times.

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