The Pong siblings have made quite a mark in the food and beverage industry. Their first forray into food was their eatery in Damansara Uptown called Fat Spoon Cafe, which serves modern nonya favourites with a contemporary twist such as ulam fried rice and spicy beef macaroni soup. It did so well that they also released a cookbook titled The Fat Spoon Cookbook.
Early this year, Michelle and Melissa opened another fusion cafe, this time in the Desa Sri Hartamas neighbourhood. The Japanese-inspired Mei by Fat Spoon uses ingredients such as torched salmon, sashimi, beef tongue and mentaiko for their rice bowls with seaweed, avocado and cucumber as fresh accompaniments and is a hit with foodies.
Was there a moment where you realised you wanted to be involved in the F&B industry?
Michelle: I think what mainly drew us in was the idea of doing something we love and being able to make a living out of it. It's quite idealistic if you think about it, but if you're passionate about what you do and if you have the right people on board with you to run this machine, it really can be quite a ride!
Tell us some childhood food stories. Do you have any foods that remind you of your childhood?
Melissa: The kinds of food we fought over at the dinner table are fish eye balls and chicken cartilage; it was never burgers or ice cream for us. Growing up, mum would shove at us anything slimy and say "natural collagen, eat more!" and eat, we did. I guess she's adventurous when it comes to food and naturally we took after her.
What is the inspiration behind the fusion styles of both your restaurants?
Michelle: We like to believe that comfort food is our signature style; the kind of food that gives you all sorts of warm fuzzy feeling on the inside. That bit definitely comes from home, because that's how grandma and mum would cook for us. The only difference is that we play it up a bit by mixing less conventional ingredients together, it's almost like injecting a little bit of youthfulness and playfulness into otherwise conventional dishes, and I think that for us is the most exciting bit in the creative process. You just never know what works so you play and you experiment and sometimes you get something gold to add into the menu. We take inspiration mostly from travels, the web and old family recipes.
Which chefs or restauranteurs are you inspired by?
We're very much influenced by Southeast Asian street food for their honest, wholesome flavours, Japanese sushi bars for their emphasis on amazingly fresh produce, and quirky cafes for their wit and originality.
What dishes would you recommend at Fat Spoon and Mei By Fat Spoon? What are some personal favourites?
Melissa: At Fat Spoon, we personally like the Perut Ikan with Rice because it's something our grandma would cook for us at home. It's a traditional Nyonya dish that is really tedious to prepare but one that's very close to our hearts! Our other signature dishes are Ulam Fried Rice and Claypot Sampan Beef Noodles.
At Mei, you can't go wrong with the Light-braised Beef Shortribs. It's the perfect meal to have on a rainy day or when you're in need of a pick-me-up! Our Summer Bara Chirashi Bowl is very popular amongst the ladies; it's vibrant, it's got various textures and it really taste like summer!
Your biggest accomplishment yet?
Michelle: I think plunging ourselves into the family business not knowing if we'd able to work together professionally was a bit of a gamble at the beginning, but being able to iron out the creases, learn from mistakes and see results from our partnership is something we're truly grateful for. I think that on its own is something we're really proud of.
What are some lessons you've learnt on your journey so far?
Michelle: I've learned that if you view challenges in life (and in business) as opportunities rather than obstacles, you really learn and grow so much more as a person. Also, always be curious about everything and anything because once you stop being curious, that's when you stop being a student of life!
What is an easy dinner recipe you'd whip up when you're short on time?
Melissa: We always make sure we have some basic chicken stock lying around for some last minute meals. Otherwise, having some miso paste stocked at home will always come in handy. So at anytime, you'll have some wholesome noodle soup whipped up within minutes, just make sure to stock some staple ingredients like noodles, eggs and vegetables.
Name one ingredient you can't live without.
Melissa: Growing up with our grandma who's Nyonya, we definitely have a soft spot for Asian herbs. Some of our favourites are lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, torched ginger flower and holy basil just to name a few. We love incorporating them into our daily meals and xperimental dishes as it gives so much more depth in flavour and aroma. It almost feels incomplete without it. Not just with savoury dishes, you can even experiment with Asian herbs in desserts. Trust me, it's a lot of fun!
If you weren't in F&B, what would you be doing?
Michelle: Honest to god, we've asked ourselves this question a million times and still can't find an answer. It would still be lifestyle-related, I reckon.
What can we expect next?
Well, we never sit still for too long that's for sure, so yes, there will be more projects coming along but you'll just have to stick around and see for now!
Fat Spoon is at 73, Jalan SS21/1A, Damansara Utama, PJ.