In the capricious fine dining landscape of Kuala Lumpur, one establishment that always elicits sighs of delight among epicures is DC in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. DC, of course, are the initials of Darren Chin, whose delectable Franco-inspired terroir-led cuisine has garnered a devoted following since it opened 10 years ago and was one of only two restaurants in Kuala Lumpur to be awarded a star in the country’s inaugural Michelin Guide.
Apart from DC, Chin has opened other restaurants, which include a casual-fine dining restaurant Bref, a cafe-style outlet, Bistrot David with his father, as well as Gai, Chin’s interpretation of Thai cuisine inspired by his wife’s Isaan heritage. All these restaurants are thriving. Driven by Chin’s singular vision and talent, DC is now almost six times in size from what it originally was. Hence, it seems impossible to imagine that there was a time that Chin almost stopped cooking.
In his 20s, Chin had been working with the family business for about 10 years, helping to expand his father’s Dave’s Deli chain, which he found draining. “I was going through burnout and had lost the passion for cooking. I wasn’t sure what I was doing then, and maybe I was too heavily influenced by my dad,” he recalled. “I also never really thought that I had much talent for cooking at that time because I didn’t have much experience working for other mentors.”
Fortunately for gastronomes, Chin enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, when he was 30, where he “unlearned everything that he did and just soaked up everything like a sponge”.
“I came across many different chefs there, which moulded me into the kind of chef I am right now, and I think that kind of exposure gave me the right set of tools. Not just cooking techniques but the concepts and set me on the path of finding my cooking style,” Chin said.
When Chin returned to Kuala Lumpur in 2013, an opportunity to open a place of his own arose by sheer happenstance. “It so happened that my wife knew the landlord, who was gracious enough to lease the entire building to us. There was no pretence at all, and it was more about having a place of my own and developing my cuisine,” said Chin.
“While working in Paris, I realised I was not a fan of Le Cinq at George V and what you see in three-star Michelin restaurants. Instead, I chose to work at restaurants run by chef-owners. This solidified my preference for personalisation and energy transfers. This honesty of cooking and how it has developed into the freedom of cooking resonates with what I do now.”
DC was a sensation almost from the day it opened. It evolved through the years, with expansion into various themed floors, including a dedicated bar, Louis XIII red rooms and a Moon Dining room. While Chin began with a more classic bent, he acknowledges that, like the location, his cuisine has evolved along the way. “When we first started, it was with very heavy French influence, which is essentially my roots. Since then, I learned not only myself but also from chefs who have been working with me and who have contributed to the dishes as we went along, and somehow incorporated some styles of simplicity, of naturalness, of nature’s bounty,” he mused.
Chin’s F&B empire shows no signs of flagging as the entrepreneurial chef discloses the details of an upcoming project. A collaboration with Malaysian hospitality brand M Resort, the building is called M/D and comprises three floors at about 6,000 sq each and the concepts are based on the current brands he owns.
Diners can look forward to Gai 2, featuring Gai’s favourites and more Lanna dishes based on his mother-in-law’s regional fare. One of the highlights will be the triple-A Jasmine rice cooked to order in individual charcoal pots for each table. There is also a continued emphasis on sourcing and quality with live fish tanks. Chin stresses that he is committed to making Gai 2 more accessible and affordable.
Next up is Bref 2, based around the open-fire grill. Emphasising “primitive cooking”, Chin will present high-quality ingredients in small and sharing plates in a casual environment perfect for good wines and conversation.
A completely new concept is Monsieur Darren, a pastry project offering classics done well with an artistic sense. “Again, here we emphasise quality ingredients and the simplicity of the pastries at a more accessible price point. Apart from dine-ins, we are also focusing on online here,” explained Chin. The top floor will house a jazz lounge, an exclusive partnership with MHD Moet Hennessy Diageo. Targeting an older clientele, Chin says the outlet will provide quality entertainment in a sophisticated environment boasting excellent acoustics and maybe even a grand piano.
Chin is taking on an ideator role in this venture, but fans who are keen to have the chef’s personal touch can do so at Cellar, which was recently launched in DC. “Cellar is the fourth expansion of the restaurant and was named for its impressive walk-in wine cellar. I’ve been importing my wines for a while now and taking a more gastronomic approach to choosing them. I don’t think other restaurants in Malaysia has given that much emphasis on that kind of food and wine pairing,” said Chin. Indeed the Malaysian Michelin Guide’s Sommelier Award went to Mahamad Hafiz Bin Abdullah from DC.
Cellar offers an omakase-style menu where Chin cooks personally for a maximum of 10 people. “It’s a very engaging experience as DC has never offered that kind of experience where they get to connect directly with the chef to understand the concept, the food ethos, the food DNA,” Chin continued.
With Cellar, Chin believes he has come full circle in his journey as a chef. “Strangely, I am going back to square one regarding my food and reliving that aspect. Today, I am further convicted in my belief in myself and my food,” he stressed.
In fact, even before the Michelin star, Chin revealed that he has reached an epiphany professionally and personally. “I’m at a certain pinnacle in my cuisine where I feel very comfortable and happy in what I do and cook every day. I am not soul-searching anymore and have come to this point where I can break free, even from the pressures of the Michelin star,” Chin stated.
“I now cook freely and openly without pretence, without that preconceived notion of purpose. I cook from the heart fully without wanting to prove myself anymore. I’m able to find my own style and voice through my food, and I can express that fully right now without self-doubting and somebody else’s approval.” Chin is living proof that the truth will indeed set you free.