Story by Sarah Murphy Robertson
30afoodandwine.com is gearing up for the FoodFilmSowal Fest April 8-10th by talking to some of the skillful chefs traveling to participate in this unique event. Husband and wife team Executive Chef Braden and Yasmin Wages opened Malai Kitchen in 2011 in Dallas. Their modern approach to Southeast Asian cuisine has been well received and has grown to include locations in Uptown and Southlake Dallas. Their menus are inspired by their extensive travels through Thailand and Vietnam and we are very excited to sample their authentically-crafted food here in South Walton!
What are your thoughts on being involved with an event like Food Film Fest?
We feel so honored to be a part of this event and have the opportunity to cook alongside such a talented group of chefs. We loving sharing our cooking with others, and we’re excited to bring a taste of Malai to a broader audience. And it doesn’t hurt that the event takes place at the beach!
What trends do you see on the dining scene in Dallas?
We are very excited about the direction of the Dallas food scene. Like many of the top food cities, more and more restaurants are beginning to showcase strong personality and exotic creativity through cooking style, cuisine, atmosphere, and service. Not only is there a broad variety of cuisines and styles, there is talent and creativity and passion behind them. Dallas has for so long been a known as a “steak and potatoes” town, so it’s exciting to see people enjoying the range of amazing restaurants that have been popping up over the past 5 years.
So much of a restaurant’s vibe comes from its Executive Chef. How does your style affect your diners’ experience?
I would describe myself as energetic, playful, knowledgeable, and humble. I think those traits translate to the restaurant vibe and menu, creating a welcome and comfortable atmosphere where people can enjoy a good meal.
What one “best practice” from working in kitchens OR piece of instruction learned in culinary school do you daily find the most useful?
“Do it the hard way.” At Malai, we do everything the hard way – we make our own curry pastes from scratch, press our own coconut milk, make our own sriracha, and even brew our own beer. And as much as we would like to find shortcuts to make life easier and more manageable, the only thing that suffers is quality. True quality comes from dedication to technique and integrity of ingredients – we live and die by that belief.
Chefs are educators in a way – what do your restaurants most often “teach” the diners?
I tend to think of myself as more of a teacher than a chef. I spend more of my day teaching others about cooking techniques, ingredients, and cultures than I actually do cooking. I guess it is the nature of the duty, especially with a unique cuisine like ours. Not only do we teach our guests about the principles of Southeast Asian cuisine, but on a larger scale, we are challenging their understanding and impressions of the definition of authenticity.
What is your personal comfort food or what dish do you enjoy preparing most?
I love preparing a good, true Pad Thai. The excitement of fast, high-heat wok cooking, combined with sweet, spicy, salty and sour flavors – it’s my happy place.
Photos of Braden and Yasmin Wages courtesy of Kevin Marple