BURO Impact Awards 2023: Su Kim Hock of Michelin-starred Au Jardin is our Chef of the Year
Food + Drink

BURO Impact Awards 2023: Su Kim Hock of Michelin-starred Au Jardin is our Chef of the Year

A star in his own right


By Natalie Khoo

Su Kim Hock is no stranger to Malaysia’s F&B industry, having established Penang’s premier fine dining restaurant, Au Jardin, in 2018. His influence extends far beyond the northern state, having had stints in the UK and Taiwan, as well as dining collaborations all around the country. On top of his culinary finesse and pioneering spirit, what makes Su BURO’s Chef of the Year 2023 is his unwavering support of fellow chefs, in hopes of raising Penang—and ultimately Malaysia—to be on par with global standards. 


Hock wears: Shirt and tie, Talent’s own. Blazer, Zalora.


From front of house to the kitchen

Born in Kedah as the youngest of four siblings, Su’s journey to becoming a chef was far from cookie cut. “I would be lying to you if I said I loved cooking from a young age,” he tells me candidly over a video call, on the way home from picking up his kids from school. “I didn’t really find interest in it until I was about 17 or 18.”

His first time working in the kitchen was for a part-time job in McDonald’s at the age of 15, but it hadn’t crossed his mind to join the industry then. Instead, he decided to pursue hospitality management for his tertiary studies, believing that it provided wider options. After all, he wasn’t sure at the time if he wanted to cook for the rest of his life. 

However, Su began to question if he was on the right path not long after starting his career as a front-of-house personnel at a hotel in Penang. “Six months in, I got promoted and it got me thinking about how my seniors ended up being my subordinates. I realised it was an easily replaceable industry, so maybe I have to think of another career for myself,” he elaborates. 

And so, he moved into the kitchen to pick up more technical, hands-on skills as a commis chef. Only then did it finally dawn on him that this was what he wanted to do for a living. With that in mind, Su headed to Manchester to complete his education, while gaining some work experience. 

“I applied for a kitchen position in a local pub that was run by a retired Michelin-starred chef. That was when I came to know what Michelin stars were all about,” he recollects. This pub was none other than The White Hart, the brainchild of Michael Shaw—whose illustrious career spans working with Gordon Ramsay as a pastry chef at Aubergine to leading the team at Gilpin Lodge to attain a Michelin star. 


Hock wears: Shirt, H&M. Blazer, Talent’s own. Shoes, Clarks.


A Michelin-starred journey 

Su is quick to credit his mentor for giving him a push during the early years of his career. “I was fortunate enough to meet the right person at the right time. At that point, I was happy cooking a good plate of fish and chips. If I could make a living out of that, it would have meant the world to me,” he says, chuckling at the mentality of his younger self. “I thought I could return to Malaysia and start a fish and chips chain. But he told me I could do more.”

Shaw then referred him to his protégé, Steven Smith, who opened a gastropub called The Freemasons at Wiswell. Together, they managed to earn a Michelin star within two years. From there, he jumped from one Michelin-starred restaurant to another, honing his craft with some of the top chefs in the UK. 

Unfortunately, he was forced to return to Penang in 2012 for health reasons. But Su wasn’t one to rest on his laurels, taking the leap to start his first F&B venture with the launch of Les Macarons de Valérie, a pastry and bonbon shop. As one of the pioneers in the macaron business in Malaysia, it became a huge hit. This led to his next venture—a full-fledged bistro named Basil, Le Bistrot, which enjoyed similar success. 

Four months later, the team secured investment to open a second outlet in Taipei. Su ran the French bistro for four years there, joined by most of the team from Penang. During this time, he also represented Taiwan in the San Pellegrino Young Chef competition and placed as a semi-finalist. 

Although business was booming, the birth of his firstborn in 2017 made Su rethink the prospect of building a family abroad. By the time his son turned one, he decided that home was where the heart is and returned to his motherland.

“I was actually in Penang briefly in March 2018, when Gen had already started. I ate a meal there and met Chef Johnson, and he was the one who encouraged me to come back to Penang,” he reveals. That same year, in September, he established Au Jardin near Hin Bus Depot, a popular landmark in George Town.


Hock wears: Shirt and tie, Talent’s own. Blazer, Zalora.


Family comes first

Having dropped his kids off at home at this point of the interview, I ask Su if being a father has influenced his role as a chef in any way. “I believe in karma and I used to shout at my kitchen staff a lot,” he jokes—hinting at what fatherhood is like—before continuing, “For real, I now understand that it’s important to be more respectful. I used to work 16 to 17 hours a day, six days a week during the early days of my career. I made everyone do the same and I thought being abusive in the restaurant was okay because that was how I was trained.”

“After having your own family, you start to evaluate what is really important. Cooking is important, yes, but family is definitely more important. I still want my team to work hard, but I also want them to enjoy life,” he contemplates. This is why he made it a point to open Au Jardin only four days a week from the get go, to ensure a healthy environment for his team. 

The fact that a large number of them have followed him for a decade is a testament to his leadership. That, and the one Michelin star Au Jardin has secured for two years in a row—bringing his journey full circle. Today, the restaurant’s menu reflects his French training in the UK, while paying respect to Malaysian terroir and culture. You’ll find native ingredients such as cilantro and nutmeg showcased in the dishes, taking Penang’s acid-driven flavour profile into account. 

On his definition of a good chef, Su states: “As a chef, your focus is not just about food. My mum makes a very good curry, but that doesn’t make her a chef. What makes a good chef is not how well you cook, but how well you manage your kitchen and how oiled your team is.”

With that said, Su now sees himself becoming more of a restaurateur rather than just a chef. “I like beautiful things. I like good-textured stuff. My position allows me to decide on what kind of materials we get to use for everything that we put on the table at Au Jardin—regardless of the type of tablecloth, napkin, or glass,” he muses. “I think that’s what I enjoy the most because whatever we serve or give to the diners, there’s some part of me in there and that’s the romance of it.” 


Hock wears: Shirt, H&M. Blazer, Talent’s own. Shoes, Clarks.


Putting Penang on the food map

Speaking of maturing into a restaurateur, Su’s latest addition to Penang’s culinary scene is Un Poco Loco (which means ‘a little crazy’ in Spanish). Noting that the state lacked a tapas bar, he travelled to Spain with a few members of his team to pick up some ideas and started working on the project. It opened in Tanjung Tokong earlier this year, aiming to be a hangout spot for locals. “The only words I can use to describe the food is ‘ugly delicious’—it doesn’t look fancy but it’s hearty and nice,” he divulges. 

Reflecting on the current F&B landscape in Penang, he asserts, “Generally, it is very harmonious because all of us have one intention: we want to put Penang on the food map. Not just on the Malaysian food map, but on the global map. In saying that, I don’t mean that people here are not competitive, but we’re competitive in a healthy way.” 

Su himself has a reputation for supporting industry peers through his connections and collaborations. I commend him for this, recalling how I witnessed him passionately cheering on fellow chefs at the recent Michelin Guide ceremony in Kuala Lumpur, to which he replies, “I don’t think it’s such a noble thing to reach out and help your peers. I think it’s just the responsibility of an industry player. If you have the influencing power to help others, why not?”

Moving forward, Su hopes Penang will gain recognition as an international food destination as a whole, not just for cheap eats. More importantly, he wants to see more Malaysian chefs returning to our home soil and is committed to keeping a lookout for such talents—just like what Chef Johnson of Gen did for him.  

He concludes with a parting note for all readers: “Give young chefs a chance to shine. If no one supports them, they will eventually die off and we won’t have a transition between each generation of chefs. Supporting young local talents is the very least that we need from our local diners.”






Check out the 2023 BURO Impact Award winners here.

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