For all those aspiring to cook and eat in a more healthy way, the rustic yet wholesome approach at Garden to Table’s private dining and garden cafe’s is the perfect example to follow.

“We are not atas,” said founder Sce Hwai Phang, using the Malay word for high class. “But we want to make the place as environmentally friendly as possible for everyone, to allow exchanges and interactions amongst people.”

This was her passionate message to the six participants who attended a cooking and growing workshop at her Petaling Jaya café/vegetable garden in early September.

Popularly known as CY, the seasoned food stylist and recipe developer shared some of the values behind the unique culinary experience that extends beyond her kitchen.

“We cook [ingredients] from the garden, either from our own garden here or from a friend’s garden or a garden that we know of,” she said.

She is a strong advocate of healthy eating and wants home cooks and businesses to experience the joy and satisfaction of harvesting your own produce and cooking with it.

Those who attended the session were winners of a recent Love Wholesome contest supported by kitchen appliance maker Kenwood. Other prizes included a planting starter kit from Eat, Shoots and Roots.

At CY’s workshop, they learnt how to grow and care for edibles, and cook from home garden ingredients.

To help with the cooking, winners also took home a Kenwood Blend-X Pro blender and CY’s book of recipes, Grow, Cook and Eat, which she co-authored with the late food writer Fay Khoo.

Kenwood’s intention is to make eating meaningful and help people find the deeper meaning of food by showing that food connects with every part of our lives.

“We hope this contest inspires the participants to embark on a journey to discover a greater joy that can come from food. And that is by cooking a wholesome meal for someone they love with something they have grown,” said Adeline Tan, Kenwood’s brand manager for Singapore and Malaysia.

CY explained to the attendees that her cafe is built on a “wholesome” concept. As far as she knows, there are not many cooking sessions run by chefs who grow their own food.

Her skills and knowledge stem from years of working as a food stylist and culinary consultant. She has a bachelor’s degree in horticultural science and a master’s degree in human communication from University Putra Malaysia.

She joked that there was no “free lunch” as all participants had to cook their own meal and dessert, but more importantly, she wanted everyone to leave with an appreciation of how food is grown in an environmentally-sensitive space.

The session began with an introduction of the café and garden, where CY explained that the private dining arm of the business was not its main objective.

Garden to Table’s primary intention is to educate people about the growing and cooking with locally sourced ingredients.

At the session, the winners were first treated to coffee and angku kuih, a steamed dessert made from potato and rice flour. CY made two types – one using purple sweet potato and another with orange.

Then the workshop began with drinks. The first step was to extract a natural blue colour from the blue pea flower or bunga telang.

Using Kenwood’s blender, CY whizzed up two drinks, both nourishing and refreshing at the same time. The participants sampled the blue pea, mint and lime cooler and banana yoghurt smoothie.

The blue pea flower is from CY’s garden, while the bananas were from another home garden, all free from chemicals and pesticides.

Then the participants worked on making the main dish – nasi kerabu. A popular menu item at her café, CY replaced the usual grilled fish with chicken for this cooking session.

Nasi kerabu is a Malay rice dish from the east coast of Malaysia and is served with herbs and salad from the garden, a salted egg, kerisik ikan (fish with grated and roasted coconut), fish crackers and a spicy sambal.

The rice is dyed blue with liquid from the blue pea flower that gives it a fluffy texture. The spicy sauce is made from ingredients such as chilli, shallots and a sauce known as budu, which is made from fermented fish or anchovies.

One of the winners, Elsye Tjowasi from Indonesia, said she makes her own national dish, bakso (Indonesian-styled meatball), from scratch and was excited to be learning how to make a traditional Malaysian dish.

“I have two young children, so I make food from scratch. The workshop is a bonus as I’ve never won anything in a competition before,” said the 39-year-old homemaker.

CY ensured the workshop was as informal and interactive as possible, as the six got to work to pound shallots, ginger, garlic and coconut as part of the main dish.

They also made a spicy marinade to season the chicken for grilling.

Broadcast engineer Ahmad Shahrim said after completing the workshop that he was proud to be able to cook nasi kerabu but wanted to improve so he can be more meticulous.

“I can’t jump straight in – I must learn one step at the time,” said the 52-year-old.

At each stage, CY emphasised the importance of natural flavours and colours. She said it was easy to use herbs and flowers to avoid artificial ingredients or preservatives.

As an example, she said that the blue colour from commercially produced nasi kerabu tends to be brighter, likely due to the addition of artificial food colouring. When natural sources are used, the colour is typically darker.

Another winner, Hasim Derashid, said when he first encountered the blue rice from nasi kerabuhe was afraid it to eat it because it looked “odd”.

“But now I know about the natural sources, I am keen to cook it from scratch,” said the 55-year-old agricultural government officer, who specialises in cocoa and chocolate research.

While not an avid cook, he said he enjoyed learning about ingredients and getting CY’s perspective on local sources of food.

For dessert, the group made pandan pavlova. They learnt how to extract pandan, or screwpine leaf juice, with the Kenwood blender and used the Chef XL Sense mixer to whip cream.

After enjoying a satisfying lunch, the participants were shown how to propagate herbs and offered a garden tour.

The six novice gardeners and cooks were taught how to grow herbs like lemongrass and mint, create a potting mix and reduce kitchen waste by making compost.

CY noted that kitchen waste is often just thrown away but can actually be used to nourish the vegetables that we grow.

She had started growing her own vegetables and herbs as a convenient supply of chemical-free edibles. Today the lush garden provides her cafe with safe and nourishing vegetables and is an ecosystem in itself.

“We essentially want to show people how simple it is to grow your own food, and learn to cook from it, making yourself happy with the entire process,” she said.

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