If you paid close attention over the past decade, you’d have probably noticed an interesting development as far as urban Malaysian food trends are concerned. Along with the growth of social media and exposure to cultures from around the world, urban Malaysians have seen their taste buds exposed to more types of food trends and options, with interesting outcomes.
Just looking at how Malaysians have come to embrace bubble tea, poké bowls, frozen yoghurt, and ramen among other things, you’ll realise that local urban palates have evolved to appreciate a wider range of different flavours and textures.
Fast forward to today, one such example of a new and rising food trend is the grazing platter—a large European-influenced arrangement of fresh ingredients that complement each other flavour-wise. Typical ingredients include but are not limited to things such as fresh cheeses, fruits, small vegetables, bread, pastries, and select cured meats and cold cuts.
These elements are usually consumed in pairings and make an excellent option for parties and gatherings. Imagine slices of cheddar and salami on a water biscuit to make a canapé, hummus on a slice of sourdough, or even just eating some apricots and red grapes after taking a bite of Edam—perfect feasting for events such as a birthday or an engagement party.
Here in the Klang Valley, 29-year-old Carmen Wong is making grazing platters her bread and butter (pun intended), with her self-built business called KEJU (obviously inspired by the cheese selections on grazing platters), offering Klang Valley dwellers the chance to have their very own grazing spread at their parties and get-togethers.
Explaining how it all started, Carmen recounted a particular event during her time serving in her church’s hospitality team—a group in charge of welcoming newcomers and preparing food and drink to make them feel more at home.
Wanting to impress the crowd by trying out something different, the team decided to prepare a grazing platter using fresh ingredients. Needless to say, the crowd was impressed, and Carmen soon started getting enquiries from others as to how they could also get their own grazing platters set up for their own events.
“Shortly after that, a friend approached me and asked if I’d be interested in preparing a grazing platter for their wedding,” she said. “It was really such an honour to be part of that.”
Following that, Carmen then went on to do more of the same, eventually coming to a point where she managed to set up a gigantic platter (also known as a grazing table) big enough to feed a crowd of 200.
“I have to admit it was a huge challenge, but with much help from my husband, it turned out beautifully and I was very pleased with the outcome.”
By that point, photos of Carmen’s platters were already doing rounds on social media platforms and she began to receive more and more requests from friends and family for their parties and weddings.
“As KEJU was not yet established at this point, I didn’t charge for the grazing platters or tables,” she said. “I simply did them as a favour because really, I enjoy the process so much.”
Eventually, Carmen’s husband—an entrepreneur himself—saw the potential in what she was doing and encouraged her to pursue it as a proper business. This then led to Carmen officially starting up KEJU as proper money-making enterprise in August 2018.
Carefully Put Together
Right now, KEJU services the areas of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, with grazing platter options available for groups as small as a couple all the way to 20.
Carmen explained that the most time-consuming part of the process was preparation, with it taking about two to three days to purchase ingredients, cook foodstuffs that can’t be eaten raw, prepare the decoration and props, and design the table.
“I have different suppliers for various ingredients on the menu—some get delivered directly to me, and I tend to go out to the shops for the remaining items and ingredients,” she explained.
In terms of ingredient availability, she said that it was usually an easy task hunting down most of what she usually needs.
“It’s not as difficult as one might think—there are a lot of stores that import ingredients I need from all over the world,” she said. “The trick is to search hard and—more importantly—smart for the things I require.”
As for the designing of platters and tables, she said that it’s all usually done inside her head.
Prices begin at RM290 for their smallest set ups, with the ingredients customisable according to the customer’s needs.
For example, meat selections can be replaced by salmon cuts for a slight premium, and customers can opt for more sweet or savoury ingredients depending on the needs of their event.
For those wanting to go bigger, KEJU also offers full grazing table set ups, with prices starting at RM1,500 for a minimum of 20 pax. Here prices will also include everything from decorations to set-ups and tear-downs to the provision of cutleries.
Upon request, Carmen’s team members can also be present at the event to provide diners with advice on how to pair ingredients to get the most unique flavour combinations.
So Far, So Gouda
Speaking about the viability of her business, Carmen confessed that she was at first apprehensive about focusing more effort on KEJU.
“I had to admit I had my reservations about how suitable KEJU would be to the Malaysian palate,” Carmen said. “But as KEJU became a part of more and more events, I was able to see people from all walks of life enjoy my spreads.”
As it stands, Carmen and her team average around two grazing tables and 12 platters a month and unsurprisingly see more customers during the festive periods. This has so far encouraged her enough to want to expand her business to other regions in Malaysia.
“The aim is to continue growing as a business, and the plan is to expand the team by the end of the year,” she said. “I’m also hoping to acquire a kitchen and an office as a base for the business that will make it easier for me to test new recipes and ideas.”
“I can see the potential for KEJU to reach other states in Malaysia, especially since I’ve had requests from people in Penang, Malacca, and Johor,” she added. “But it’s a long-term plan and I want to ensure I build a strong foundation for KEJU in KL and Selangor before reaching out further.”
Moving forward, the other big challenge for Carmen (aside from trying to grow her business) is how she juggles work with family. For her, the ultimate solution is time management.
“I plan the coming week in advance, allocating time for family and time for work,” she said. “And it also helps to have a regular routine for my children during the weekdays.”
“Being a full-time mum and a business owner is probably the most challenging aspect of this,” she admitted. “But having said that, my family is a huge driving force behind what I do.”
“I’m blessed with the most supportive family—my husband, children, parents, mother-in-law, and siblings have always given me the extra push when I needed it.”
Feature Image Credit: KEJU