August 11, 2020
Big Chat: Valerie Kolat
Dapur Malaysia's Valerie Kolat on her journey into food, into Leeds, and into business
Meet Valerie Kolat, owner of wonderful Leeds restaurant, Dapur Malaysia. From growing up in Malaysia to moving to Huddersfield, learning to cook and moving into her pop-up business to founding her concrete premises, we explore Valerie’s journey into food, into Leeds, and into business.
A Business Begins
“Being a stay at home mum helped me experiment, and learn lots of dishes”, Valerie explains. Instead of shying away from business in those first, busy years of motherhood, Valerie polished up on the dishes that epitomised her Malay heritage. “I started catering on a very small scale, by doing the off party”, she says, as well as “Friday lunch drop (where people would pre-order and I could deliver it around Huddersfield). We then started doing a market stall every second Sunday of the month in Huddersfield, called Upmarket Sundays.”
“I lost both of my parents within a six-month period, in late 2011 and early 2012”, Valerie reveals. “I think cooking has been therapeutic for me from the start, although I didn’t realise it until a couple of years ago. Valerie’s mum taught her many Malaysian recipes, and Keralan recipes from her grandparents too, to add to the story of her culinary cultural heritage. “My mum was an amazing cook, and a perfectionist”, she remembers. “It was incredibly difficult to see her suffer the way she did”. Losing her to vascular dementia, Valerie would slowly lose the rock her mother had been. “With dementia, the person is physically there, but not as you remember them.” After this particularly devastating ordeal, food became something of a way to memorialise her wonderful mother. “The food reminds me of home…people I love, who are no longer here. Like music, a favourite dish can take you back”, Valerie muses – “that is why I cook.”
Malaysian Culture and Food
Malaysia is made up of a multitude of peoples; predominantly Malay, Chinese and Indian.”The food is typical of its peoples”, Valerie explains – “some dishes are a mix of ingredients from all three groups, whilst others remain unique to that race of people.” Malaysia is diverse, and the various populations interact and live entwined lives.
“It’s not unusual to go into a Chinese restaurant and find Malays and Indians eating comfortably with chopsticks, or to go into an Indian or Malay restaurant and find everyone eating curry with their hands, off of a banana leaf.”
“Most Malaysians are foodies”, Valerie glows; “eating out is a national pastime and people will drive any length of time to eat a favourite dish.” It’s strange that Malaysian food hadn’t made much head road into the British psyche, but most of our international food passions have grown from mass migration from those places. Cuisines like that of Malaysia are growing in popularity as more people experience them here.
“Whether you love a curry or a stir fry, vegan, gluten-free or pescatarian food, there is something for everyone”, Valerie states. “I think in the years to come, Malaysian cuisine will be the next big thing.”
Bringing Malaysian flavour to Leeds
Dapur Malaysia set up premises in Chapel Allerton. “It was actually regular customers at Trinity who suggested a number of areas in Leeds that would be suited to Malaysian food. Chapel Allerton was one of those areas that was suggested”, she explains. “We knew we needed to be in an area where people might be somewhat familiar with some of the dishes, and/or willing to try something different” – so Chapel Allerton was the suburb she set her heart on.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
COVID-19 has hit independent food and drinks businesses especially hard. “The last few months have been challenging”, Valerie agrees, “as we were only open for seven months before we had to close.” I ask Valerie if any positives have come out of this difficult period. “The positives are that we have had some time to think about how best to tweak and push the business”, she muses. “Our curry kits and ready meal range were part of our business plan, that we are moving forwards with. Thankfully Malaysian cuisine lends itself well as takeout food,” she considers, “So we have been quite fortunate in that way – we have continued to offer that element during lockdown.”
Find Dapur Malaysia at 5 Stainbeck Lane, in Chapel Allerton. Find them via Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats, enjoy their food at home with Dapur at Home, or prebook a table now, to experience the cuisine Valerie is devoted to, and which we think you’ll love too!