Gen The Prestige Hotel – Progressive Malaysian Cuisine
With the opening of his second outlet, Gen (gēn 根) The Prestige Hotel, Chef Johnson Wong has firmly anchored his philosophy – to create forward-thinking Malaysian cuisine using local produce.
Chef Johnson transformed the original Gen (gēn 根) at Lebuh Presgrave into Gen Communal Table a communal-style modern Malaysian restaurant focused on local ingredients.
Let’s start by finding out what is Penang cuisine before we discover Progressive Malaysian Cuisine.
Penang’s food culture is most associated with street food, where visitors expect less than hygienic preparation and sometimes even rude service.
Visitors flock to Penang to taste these regionally good foods that connect at its heart, the people, and culture to a plate or bowl.
So what is Malaysian Cuisine?
According to Wikipedia, “Malaysian cuisine comprises cooking traditions and practices found in Malaysia and reflects the multi-ethnic makeup of its population.”
“The vast majority of Malaysia’s population is divided among three major ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians.”
What is Progressive Malaysian Cuisine?
Progressive Malaysian Cuisine or Contemporary Malaysian Cuisine is the evolution of cooking methods and the presentation of our Malaysian food.
We have seen the evolution of the original way Indian-Muslim traders sell Nasi Kandar by carrying the food in containers hanging on a “kandar” (a pole) on their shoulders to conventional restaurants.
There are now more ways than you can think of to enjoy your Malay Nasi Lemak (Coconut infused rice) from sushi to cheesecake.
The hawkers now serve the Chinese Chicken Rice with a boiled, broiled, roasted, deep-fried, steamed chicken.
The evolution of Malaysian cuisine is inevitable.
Chef Johnson Wong’s interpretation of our local Malaysian cuisine stems from stories from his childhood.
He uses these memories to create forward-thinking Malaysian cuisine using local produce.
At the heart of this, Malaysian cuisine is Malaysian cuisine because of the local ingredients that the cooks and chefs use.
Strong Heart to Plate Connection
Chef Johnson recognizes the strong connections between the farmers, culture, and plate.
For the creating of each menu, they use locally sourced ingredients.
Every morning the chefs head out to the wet markets to find fresh fish. The restaurant can tell you the origins of the ingredients.
Imagine if you knew where the herbs and flowers are planted.
How would you react to the food?
I remember an experience eating in Vietnam. One hot morning, my friend took me to this secluded home restaurant for lunch. To reach this place, I had to walk on a laterite lane by a small river.
I was hot, bothered, and covered in dust.
The restaurant was in someone’s home. Next to it was a field carpeted with various shades of green. It wasn’t paddy or vegetables.
I found out later that the owner grows organic Vietnamese herbs for her restaurant and the local markets.
This is where I tasted my first freshly plucked herbs.
Eating food straight from the farm to the table is an experience to behold.
What do I expect from a restaurant serving Progressive Malaysian Cuisine?
This is my fifth dining experience with Chef Johnson Wong.
I’ve come to expect the unexpected.
Most of all, I’ve come with an open mind and a clean palate. Chef Johnson has honed a touch of sensitivity for delicate layering of taste for the tasting menu.
To get the full taste of freshness, texture and the bouquet of individual ingredients – I need a clean palate. Today I had lunch instead of dinner. I also made this my first meal of the day.
This is just me and my logic.
There is no point coming to enjoy a full tasting menu after a day of Penang Hawker Food or greasy fast food.
I have assaulted my taste buds at so many levels with so many additives.
If you take canned tomatoes or ketchup all the time, you cannot use your sense of taste to identify nutritious food items.
The commercial food industry has for decades added additives to make food tastes “better”.
The Science of Deliciousness
It begins when a food molecule touches a microscopic taste bud on the tongue; there is a science to deliciousness.
For me, my personal preparation before dining it to just keep drinking water after waking before my first meal.
I wanted to taste the pure clean tastes of ingredients in its original form and to identify this on my palate.
Impacting the ecosystem with Progressive Malaysian Cuisine
I can see that Chef Johnson has put his heart and soul to impact the young chefs under his tutelage.
Once they know their vision – what kind of chef do they want to be?
When young chefs learn to cook with passion, something beautiful happens. Food is a major driver of global environmental change.
Chefs are change-makers for a sustainable food system.
Tasting Menu at gēn 根 The Prestige Hotel
Menu Dégustation (French) involves the presentation of the chef’s signature dishes in one sitting.
The Tasting Menu at gēn is a collection of several dishes in small portions.
What I enjoyed most is the delicate layering of pure taste.
The food is in small morsels of beautifully plated signature dishes.
The first question that you’re asked after you’re seated is,
Question: “Do you have any food restrictions or allergies?”
Me: Life is short! I’ll deal with allergies later!
Gen (gēn 根) The Prestige Hotel – “My Malaysian Stories”
Chef Johnson continues the narration of “My Malaysian Stories” with his interpretation of Malaysian ingredients and flavors.
Gen Penang Tasting Menu
- Chicken Wing, Curry
- Frog, Glutinous Rice, Leek
- Ginger Flower, Catfish Roe, Daun Kesum
- Prawn, Pork Lard
- Herbal, Black Chicken, Buah Keluak
- Catch of The Day, Sarawak Peppercorn, Local Caviar
- Pork, Kangkung, Fermented Chili
- Pineapple, Soy Sauce, Chili
- Birds Nest
- Guava, Sour Plum
- Rose, Gula Melaka
- Nutmeg, Mango
Progressive Malaysian Cuisine’s Layers of Happiness
Fresh ingredients are the key to creating any Tasting Menu.
Gen (gēn 根) has a close relationship with their farmers to provide us the fresh herbs, free range egg and chicken.
The first morning task the young chefs take is to go to the wet markets.
That is where they find fresh and different types fishes.
For my tasting menu, I tasted fresh catfish roe! There is no muddy taste at all.
In my previous meals, I have tasted Stingray and Mud Crabs. Commercial kitchens normally use heavy sauces, spices and curry to mask the muddy taste.
At Gen (gēn 根), things are very different.
It is not just deconstructing or restructuring certain local dishes. I feel it is more of how Chef finds his own or new ways to use the local Malaysian ingredients differently.
It is the lightness and layering of taste with high notes that excites me every time I dine here.
Chef Johnson’s Childhood
In the evolution of taste and inspirations for new dishes, the chef goes back to his favourite childhood memories – the ingredients.
I love the how the menu has evolved.
There is an impact on the ecosystem from farm and sea to the table.
The human ripple effect starts from the inside out. It started with one belief – a vision with the purpose to have a positive impact to inspire young chefs.
It is not just Chef Johnson growing a small restaurant business. Where he is at this moment, there is no roadmap.
I believe in what he does, what he dreams off and what he creates.
In conclusion, the sensory experiences he creates result from dreaming, playing with ingredients, running with his dogs or bonding with his son.
All the best Chef Johnson and the gēn 根 team.
As Chef Patron at gēn 根, may you continue to lead and inspire your team to greater culinary heights.
And as always, it was a delight to dine at your table.
Reasons to visit Gen the Prestige Hotel
Gen (gēn 根) is a respected world class restaurant offering Progressive Malaysian Cuisine with distinctly unique flavors using locally sourced fresh Malaysian ingredients.
Chef Johnson trained in Europe, including the two-Michelin-star NOMA in Denmark.
Gen the Prestige Hotel Tasting Menu
gēn 根 The Prestige Hotel | Unit 6, 8, Gat Lebuh Gereja, 10300 George Town, Penang, MALAYSIA |Telephone: 012-511 3323 | Business Hours: 12:00 noon – 3:00 pm, 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm | Closed on WEDNESDAYS
Editorial discretion: The photos do not show all items in the Tasting Menu.