It’s not every day that I’m personally served breakfast by a Masterchef, let alone one with a cult following. But today’s the day.
It’s a warm spring Saturday, the sort of day the Gold Coast is famous for. We’re brunching in Labrador, brought there by fame and a broken window. Enigmatic but true, the week has seen vandalism of a local café, a couple of teens smashing through the front window to steal the tip jar. So, we’re here to give a boost to morale.
We’ve stalked the café, Kopitalk, for some time via Instagram, tagging it as a local gem in an unlikely spot adjoining a service station on Government Road, Labrador. In the midlands of suburbia, it’s at least worth checking out.
Everything’s been mended, our condolences returning grateful smiles for the support as we ‘smile and order’ our meals. There’s a casual relaxed vibe, quiet chatter from other patrons as my eyes wander around the dining area.
I’m surrounded by positive messages: Love, Home, Trust your instincts… as well as framed magazine articles showing a young Malaysian chef with plates of food. Nice!
In a menu covering Western and Asian dishes, we pass on Smashed avo to choose Malaysian dishes: the daily special Nasi Kandur (rice with chicken in red sauce, egg kurma, stir-fry cabbage, okra and curry), and Char Kwey Teow (fried flat noodles), a national Malaysian favourite. We fondly remember Penang’s hawker version, famous for its charcoal-fired wok smokiness.
Our meals are delicious; really authentic Malaysian street food, well worth a return visit to explore other dishes.
It’s when we talk to the owners that the shock sets in. Kopitalk is owned by Malaysian celebrity, university lecturer, hospitality consultant and magazine columnist Chef Dr Kamarul Hasni and his wife Yati, who also holds a Master’s degree in Hospitality.
The founder of Mat Periuk Kafe, Kam was a contestant and then host for eight years of Malaysia’s reality cooking show Versus 1001 Rasa by Baba’s, (the country’s version of MasterChef), the highest rating show in Malaysia with 1.2 million viewers per episode. One look at Kam’s Instagram feed leaves no doubt about his cult following in Malaysia.
So how did Kam and Yati come to be here?
“We first came to Australia as students to study. Yati to do an MBA, and I did a M. Hospitality and Tourism,” Kam tells me. “We went back to Malaysia as lecturers and returned here to study in 2008 at Griffith University.”
Specialising in consumer behaviour for his Ph.D, Kam found that people prefer authenticity in food. After working hard all week, they also want to be treated like royalty, even for the duration of a meal. Service is a winning factor, along with good food.
Won over by our laid-back lifestyle, the beach and friendly locals, the couple made the decision to bring up their children in Australia, opening Kopitalk late in 2017.
Family-oriented, they say they love relaxed coastal life, so different to Malaysia where living is hectic and dining out is a 24-hour-a-day occupation!
“Life is super simple here. No rush, no hectic schedule. Enjoying life to the fullest. #simplelifehere #goldcoastlife,” Kam recently posted on his @chefkamarul Instagram.
Yati and Kam describe Kopitalk Coffee as “a small friendly neighbourhood coffee place”, yet from its opening they have attracted weekend customers from Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast eager to taste authentic Malaysian food (and perhaps to also catch a glimpse of Kopitalk’s celebrity chef).
“There’s a nostalgic factor involved,” Kam says, “of people on vacation wanting to eat their family food, to speak the language of their homeland. Food is a big thing for Malaysians. ‘Have you eaten?’ is the first thing we say when we greet friends,” Kam says.
To us, it’s the Malaysian dishes on the menu that are the treasure, all the food prepared fresh to order, such as real Kaya toast and Teh Tarik, a traditional frothy hot tea, the fortnightly roti special, Nasi or Mee Goreng, and Ikin Bakar Sambal (grilled barramundi in banana leaf).
“I live two lives,” Kam tells us, “one in Malaysia as a consultant and celebrated media personality and another here where life is so much simpler. Like any chef, I need my little kitchen to try things out, to cook and to experiment.
Australia is a good country, both for education and to celebrate other cultures. Australians are open to others – that’s what we love.”
177 Government Road, Labrador Ph: 0450 239 775
Open: Mon – Fri 9am – 4pm; Sat 8.30am – 2.30pm