A little while back, I had the opportunity to visit a modern Chinese eatery nestled in the midst of George Town, Penang. And it was there where I met the man himself, the mind, heart and soul of the Maple Palace Restaurant – Loy Tan L.S.
Whilst coming up the avenue to the doors of the hundred-year-old heritage building, it became immediately apparent as to how the restaurant derived its name. The huge structure sits amidst a vast tarmacadam parking lot, with its surroundings spangled in simple greenery and the edifice itself illuminated by numerous miniature spotlights that resonate true to a grand palace feel and vibe.
The interior adopts a layout typical to that of modern Chinese restaurants, further blended with a contemporary elegance that breathes a new rhythm into the expansive hall, completed with several private rooms placed near the second entrance of the establishment.
We were escorted into one of the rooms, where once seated, the feast began.
Before I go on, I must say that this feature is not so much about my experience of the food I’ve so blissfully indulged there, but rather, an enlightenment of the heritage of the Maple Palace Restaurant and the distinctive cuisines it curates with Founder and Executive Chef Loy Tan himself at the helm.
“The very desire to find shortcuts makes you eminently unsuited for any kind of mastery.” A simple quote by Rob Greene that essentially hammers down on the unfeigned reality that any craft worth mastering takes patience, hardwork and endless hours of dedication and perseverance.
Loy’s endeavours throughout his adolescence and adulthood seems a perfect manifestation of such an adage. It could be said that his deep-rooted connection to food was a fortuitous serendipity, wherein a seed of fate was sowed as a consequence of adversity, subsequently blossoming ever so eloquently into the successes he reaps today.
His humble beginnings saw him as a waiter in hotels at 14 years young, for lack of financial stability, he sacrificed time in school in the name of love for his family’s well being. Loy’s passion for food carried him through various encounters with different cuisines across multiple disciplines, garnering him a wealth of experience from waitering to butchering, then finally, cooking.
A significant turning point in his journey was when he was at sea with Star Cruise as a commis chef in western cuisine. What really caught my admiration was that Loy carved out a good 4 – 5 hour window every day after his long hour shifts to volunteer in the Chinese kitchen for 4 years, where thereafter he finally transverse into Chinese cuisine and proved himself worthy to be promoted as Assistant Chef in the galley. The entire experience onboard can be said to be the lodestar that guided him into the heart of Chinese cooking.
Well-equipped with substantial expertise and knowledge at this point, he leapt at an opportunity to venture into his first-ever Cantonese Restaurant with a former classmate at the age of 29. Jade Blossom in Bayan Lepas became a testament to his years of experience as a chef. And it was here that he learnt the ropes of entrepreneurship in the F&B industry, trusting his instincts and command in the kitchen to excel beyond expectations.
Six years after running Jade Blossom, the Maple Palace Restaurant was born.
Now, back to the present.
About Loy as a person, I will say that he wears his ardour for the art of cooking as an armour every single day. It is without a doubt that his vigour flows into each dish he creates. For better context, the most unique menu that the Maple Palace Restaurant proffers is a Chinese Omakase style dining experience whereby each course is curated specific to a customer’s budget. With the course demanding seasonal specialties on the fly, the dynamic menu challenges Loy to exercise his creativity endlessly.
Though running a business is tough enough in itself, Loy appreciates that he is in control of the recipes he concocts. And apart from the Omakase menu that is constantly evolving, the restaurant also serves up an impressively vast selection of other modern Chinese dishes infused with flavours native to Thailand, Sichuan and Malaysia, each boasting his extraordinary palate for fine piquancy.
The rationale behind his limitlessly diverse menu is that he believes his customers should be entitled to experiencing fresh and novel flavours each time they visit, truly depicting his aspirations to share his love and passion for food with the world. And on that note, Loy carries the practices from his voyage at sea into his cooking to this day, training his staff to refrain from the use of MSG in any and every dish.
It goes without saying that every dish I’ve indulged throughout my weekend there was nothing short of incredible. The taste, authentic. Each mouthfeel, divine. Every plate seemingly set as a stage for him to assimilate a perfect harmony of ingredients that carols a fine tune for the soul.
What’s most awe-inspiring about it all, for me, was that Loy did not have to overtly brag for his own talents as each dish successfully speaks for itself, conveying the story of his journey through it all in spectacular flavours.
So here I say, this is a man who despite all the success he most certainly deserves, embodies humility and modesty to stand by his deep appreciation for food without compromising on the values and virtues he has learnt throughout his long and difficult journey. Together with his phenomenal waitstaff and brigade of talented chefs, The Maple Palace Restaurant has become a staple in the Chinese culinary culture in Penang, a food haven witnessing countless memories of joy and celebration for aeons to come.
“Fate is the last page, Karma is how you earned it.”