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Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Table & Apron’s is hosting a charity dinner to celebrate the restaurant’s 10-year milestone

By Vaseline May30,2024
Table & Apron’s is hosting a charity dinner to celebrate the restaurant’s 10-year milestone

I live to eat and in my younger years I spent almost all my money eating out. Starting Table & Apron was the result of all the good things I liked in the restaurants I visited, and was based on the premise of genuine warmth, generous hospitality and simple food prepared very well,” says Marcus Low, the 38 year-old founder of the eatery, now 10 years old.

The idea for the restaurant started in 2012 with a supper club with his then partner Mei Wan Tan.

They welcomed strangers willing to pay for a dining experience that involved sharing plates at the table. “The menu changed monthly and we were fully booked three months in advance. Believe it or not, some of the signatures on our menu today, including our buckwheat fried chicken, came from the supper club era.

“One day I happened to come across a sleepy corner plot in Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya, where Table & Apron is now located. It seemed fitting that a neighborhood restaurant could exist there. With equal parts naivety, passion and ignorance of the road ahead, we went all in from that moment on,” Low fondly recalls.

For the first two years the restaurant was known as Kitchen Table. Built on empathy as a cornerstone, Table & Apron continues to embody its founding principles while making a difference in the community by consistently donating a portion of proceeds to those in need. To mark its tenth anniversary, Low is organizing a special charity dinner, where customers come together to celebrate a good cause.

The event takes place on June 3 and costs RM200++ per person. All profits will be channeled to Eat X Dignity, a social enterprise café run by the Dignity for Children Foundation, while the remainder will be used to support an excursion program for the students to tour and dine at Table & Apron and Universal Bakehouse stores.

“In true Table & Apron fashion, the menu is family-style for sharing, and will feature some of our favorite dishes throughout our 10-year history. From tender pork shoulder on toasted brioche to a… ikura-pointed dashi jelly with raw fish courseand an old-fashioned classic of chicken and mushroom pie to top it all off: the food is not only there to fill your belly, but also to fill your heart.”

Low looks up to Spanish and American chef José Andrés and his style of communal kitchens. “I believe restaurants can be powerful beacons for the community for the simple fact that food brings people together. At the end of each year we raise a portion of our sales through Table & Apron or Universal Bakehouse (our bakery next door) for Shelter Home for Children.

During the pandemic, the team focused its idle energy on food security initiatives for children’s homes and frontliners. This period illustrated how restaurants can leverage their momentum to support communities in need. Last year, Low spent part of his time funding a small school for underprivileged refugee children from Myanmar, where he showed off the cuisine prepared by his own Myanmar chefs. This initiative not only provided much-needed funding, but also instilled pride in the crew for their culinary heritage.

Over the past decade, Table & Apron has consistently focused on supporting underprivileged children and education. Efforts ranged from providing customer service training to young Eat These initiatives extend beyond fundraising and demonstrate a deep commitment to making a tangible difference in the community.

When asked what the most memorable moments have been, Low reflects on several impactful experiences that revolved around his guests. “Honestly, we’ve had a lot of them,” he says. “The most recent special moment was when Levi and Christine, a soon-to-be married couple, approached us to use our dining space for their wedding pre-shoots. We were stunned because it wasn’t a request we had ever granted. But from the moment the groom-to-be shared photos of every mutual milestone of theirs at our restaurant, this was a relationship goal win in my eyes!

His proudest memories are always nurturing homegrown talents to rise through the ranks. “And if there was an example of this, it would be Asya (Tan), who joined us as an intern in 2014 and is now managing partner and director of operations at Table & Apron, Universal Bakehouse and Basic Wine Store. Her career trajectory is inspiring and has served as a lighthouse for our young leaders.”

Table & Apron’s legacy is also reflected in its alumni, many of whom have opened their own restaurants or run prestigious kitchens. Notable examples include Heng Kit by Li, Provisions and Locus; Miki and Daniel of Gooddam; and Idris from NOPI in London. Each success story underlines the impact of the restaurant’s commitment to talent development.

Another important achievement was the shift in perspective, inspired by a regular guest and mentor, Ming Leong. She challenged the team by asking, “Why do you call those who dine here customers? You are not a grocer or a department store.” This question was a turning point, causing the team to start treating guests as guests. This change not only elevated the terminology, but also the attitudes and interactions within the team, making them instinctively more welcoming. From then on, the goal was to become someone’s favorite restaurant, and not just the best restaurant.

Table & Apron’s kitchen is all about the trifecta of comfort, familiarity and simplicity. As many will agree, simplicity is not easy to achieve. When Low started in the industry, his only way to discover chefs and restaurants was to read expensive cookbooks and books about restaurants in bookstores. This was long before the age of Instagram.

He fell in love with the writings of Fergus Henderson at St John’s restaurant in London The whole beast: eating nose to tail, who shaped his approach to food by being intuitive and keeping it simple. He also admired Thomas Keller, the genius behind The French Laundry and Per Se. During a visit to New York in 2007, Low could only afford to stand outside Keller’s restaurant like a kid in a candy store. The latter’s focus on technique and finesse inspired the discipline that defines the food at Table & Apron.

“Our restaurant’s menu encompasses an eclectic range of influences, and it’s a delicate balance to avoid creating ‘fusion’ dishes. When I first started, I struggled to convey this concept to our chefs. We were fascinated by the cleverness of cooking and wanted to see how many techniques or flavors we could incorporate into one dish.

“Our chefs have learned over the years that cooking with restraint and a ‘less is more’ approach serves us better. Our sturdy pork chop, a shoulder with bones, is a perfect example of this. We brine it overnight and treat it like a steak, with the doneness of the meat being a measure of a chef’s finesse. The spices and sauces for this dish have evolved and reflect the individual touch of each chef over the years.”

Although Table & Apron is synonymous with buckwheat fried chicken, the restaurant offers much more. The company continually strives to create a culinary philosophy that reinforces what a neighborhood restaurant means to the community: a mirage that Low and his team chase every year.

He looks forward to nurturing restaurant talent to lead small business units within the ecosystem he has built. After transforming it into a small group, multi-concept operation, he is focused on solidifying its foundation for the remainder of 2024. This includes strengthening the company’s back-end structures as it transitions from a dynamic with independent operators to an organization-oriented company.

“One of the passion projects I am currently working on is posting my personal writings in a zine that we plan to release in the third quarter of this year. All proceeds will be used to raise money for the catering education of underprivileged children, and I hope it will inspire those who want to get into the trade, as well as appreciate what it takes to run a restaurant with a legacy build.

“I saw Table & Apron as a neighborhood restaurant in Damansara Kim with a sense of place, and therefore did not consider further expansion within the Klang Valley. However, the door is always open to opportunities, as long as they are in line with our values.”

In addition to being a restaurateur, Low is currently also a member of the external advisory board of Sunway University’s School of Hospitality and a consultant for the restaurant management curriculum of the Malaysian Institute of Baking. “My interests outside of work certainly revolve around food. If I could, I would spend all my money and time on food and eating out; except my wife reminds me that I have two young daughters… and they fill my heart to the brim (and my life outside of work right now).”

This article first appeared on May 27, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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