Chef Paul Shea brings a bold new approach to grilling and smoking with wood kernels at his newest Peranakan mixed-food restaurant, Wood and Grill
Malacca Malaysians love Peranakan cuisine for its aroma and taste, but imagine elevating the authentic flavors with modern smoking techniques and grilling using locally grown forest wood.
Wood & Grill, the newest restaurant to open in Paradigm Mall, serves local cuisine with a signature twist developed by Chef, Founder and Culinary Director, Chef Paul Chia.
Born and raised in Malacca, Paul has over 24 years of experience as a chef and has worked in 15 countries around the world, from the USA to Kazakhstan.
Among other things, Shea worked at The Setai, a five-star luxury resort in Miami Beach, USA; Hilton London Green Park in England, many five-star hotels and fine restaurants, including in major cities such as Shanghai.
In 2020, the chef had to return to Malaysia due to the lockdown, but it turned out to be a boon in disguise for local foodies.
Since then, he has opened not one but two Piranha cuisine restaurants; Kamching in Malacca in December 2020 and another, KC & Co, in Arcadia Square, just last year. Wood & Grill is his third restaurant.
In his latest project, Chia has kept the essence of authentic Peranakan taste but discovered a new method – Nyonya Western Mixed Grilled Food.
It’s an entirely new concept, utilizing techniques and skills used in Western cuisine, including grilling and smoky flavors from wood chips.
“As a chef, I always know which items can take the kitchen to another level. Using the wood-smoking technique, it is a marriage of modern technology and traditional Peranakan food,” Shea said.
In order to find suitable marinades and flavors, experiment with chia and experiment with its abundance of spices and herbs, before focusing on what will become its signature recipes for pickles and sauces.
“I choose certain spices that don’t overpower the taste to season the meat, because some spices don’t work well with smoking or grilling techniques, for example, any type of plant root.”
“Ginger will beat woody smoke, so I chose a milder-tasting spice. One of the ingredients that works well with grilling and smoking is black pepper, which works great with all of these techniques.”
It was a ‘cool’ moment when Chia finally served us one of his signature dishes. He introduced a glass dome that he raised to release a cloud of smoke to reveal the dish. It was truly a unique experience!
Inside was a Nyonya grilled meat platter consisting of delicious chicken, lamb, and jumbo chicken cheese sausage, served with sambal timon ninas (pickled cucumber pineapple) on the side.
The chicken was incredibly tender, tasty and grilled, and it was served with three sauces – sweet and sour sauce, mushroom sauce and laksa cream sauce – all of which were full of flavor and added to the already delicious meat.
Aside from the grilled meats, their signature dish is the Nyonya chicken nugget, which Shea says has a good hint of black pepper with a subtle taste of evaporated milk.
His bestseller is Lemak Lamb Shank. Tender and flavorful lamb sits atop cooked pako pakis (fern leaves) with a wonderful, rich and aromatic sauce made with coconut milk, turmeric and spices. It is amazingly delicious and a must try!
The meat was cooked for six hours with celery, onions and carrots, before seasonings were added to give the meat flavor and juiciness.
“A western chef would call me crazy if I said I wanted to use ‘Lemak Spice’ on a lamb leg because ‘lemak’ wouldn’t absorb into the meat, but I did my experiment to make sure the spices from the lemak would absorb into the meat.
“I’ve done research and made a Nyonya dish from the heart and soul, and it turns out when my customers only leave bare bones on the plate.”
The meaty tiger prawn is the highlight of the pineapple and shrimp curry. The creamy broth is infused with the citrusy flavors of semi-ripe pineapple chunks and pineapple puree, combined with asam keping (tamarind slices), and leaves a sweet aftertaste on the palate.
Another distinctive taste is Sambal Hitam, made with sambal belacan and extracts from buah keluak, a hard-to-find fruit in the big city, but Chia adds creatively at Spaghetti Hitam Aglio-Olio with Octopus Kunyit Bakar.
We also tried Duo Sotong Kangkung, which consists of grilled Joo Hoo squid and shrimp, kangkung timbale and generous peanut sauce, plus crunchy tempeh and tauhu goreng chili garam – really satisfying.
Suffice to say, the entire menu was not only alluring but also reflected some of Shea’s favorites during his childhood days in Malacca. He brought back a taste of nostalgia for premium meats and seafood, fascinated by his creations.
For the 12 dishes on the menu, Chia burns locally sourced kering wood chips to add the extra special flavor, complexity, and aroma.
“Kerwing wood is special because it has oil stains inside the tree trunks and releases an aromatic scent when the wood chips burn,” the chef said, adding that the smoke of wood kerweng gives the food a lemon or lime flavor.
“The aroma of caramel elevates our sense of taste even higher, makes the food much tastier, more spicier, brings out the flavors of spices, and that’s what makes the food special,” Shea explained.
Although a variety of woods are available in Malaysia, Shea studied the properties of all local woods and selected keruing after discovering that they could withstand lower temperatures, have a natural resin, and last longer.
In North American and European countries, applewood or cider is commonly used for grilling, barbecue, and smoky flavors. “But I wanted to support the local lumber industry,” Shea admitted.
Keruing is so special to the chef that it plays an important role in interior design and furniture.
The table tops are made of solid curving, while the small pieces are used to recreate a tree keyring on the wall.
Shea explained that wood-fired food is a luxury because most local foods use charcoal, which is a faster and cheaper option. “We offer fine dining at an affordable price,” he said.
Apart from the latest technology in the gastronomic world, the chef’s expertise, knowledge, skills and distinctive concept distinguish Wood and Grill from other Peranakan restaurants in Klang Valley.