Basira Yeusuff, the head Chef and co-owner of Root Cellar KL is all about the love of food and having fun making it. What I love most about Basira is that she is non-conventional, creative and approachable. She knows how to take classical dishes and turn them on their head. And Basira has such a bubbly personality that it is an absolute pleasure being in her company.
With the quirkiness that is Basira, I ask her what the concept is behind Root Cellar KL – “[It] is actually an incarnation of two of my earlier ventures, ‘yay, sammich!’ – an artisanal underground sandwich bar (a 12 seater operating out of my living room) that also did vending gigs at music festivals and food markets, and ‘yay, cake!’ – a home bakery specializing in cakes, pies and brownies that I started when I was still in school at 16 for extra pocket money. Up to a couple of years ago, we started to evolve and be known as private caterers that specialised in pop-up restaurants and guerilla dining gigs, which prompted the rebranding.”
Basira is a trained chef – she completed her degree in Switzerland and undertook her apprenticeship in Germany under the Michelin star restaurant ‘Die Quadriga.’ She also worked in Singapore and finally made it home to Malaysia where she set up businesses, which eventually evolved into Root Cellar KL in 2015.
“I was trained during the ‘era’ of ‘Modern European’ and that’s what I associate our food with the most. Classical European methods and dishes that are inspired by ingredients, cultures and emotions of the east,” explains Basira.
I met Basira by coincidence at a family friend’s home, where she cooked a beautiful dinner along with friend Ili Sulaiman. Basira’s wonderful personality and talent at cooking make it hard to forget this evening. And so on the occasion of my Dad’s birthday, I thought immediately of Basira and felt it would be a fantastic idea to ask her to cater.
The Private Dinner
We were so excited to have Basira at our home to cook a private dinner to celebrate our Dad’s birthday. On the menu for the evening, she combined touches from east to west to create a perfect harmony of flavours in every single dish.
My Mum, sister and I organised the table setting. We picked up flowers from the local flower wholesaler – green hydrangeas, hot pink peonies, green orchids and baby pink eustomas. And with these flowers, we created a beautiful centrepiece on the dining table to help compliment the incredible dinner we were about to have. The table setting was inspired by the beautiful high tea experience I had recently at the Majesty Hotel.
Basira Yeusuff’s Menu
Then comes the part where food gets involved and this is where Basira Yeusuff got down to business. She prepared a beautiful menu, which was as follows –
Crostini Platter, which combined cheese, fresh figs, dried fruit and a range of crackers
Sweet Corn, Basil & Blue Swimmer Crab Soup
Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder
Roasted Rainbow of Carrots
Sweet Potato Gratin cooked with curry leaves and gruyere
Burnt Orange Salad
Pickled Red Onion & Mint Sauce
Lavender & Tea Ice Cream, made with butterfly pea, which gave it a beautiful blue colour.
Limau Nipis Bundt Cake, which uses local key lime syrup that keeps the cake so moist it’ll last for a week and a delicious lime cream cheese frosting
The food was absolutely divine and delicious…it felt like a beautiful home cooked meal, which a twist of fine dining. And I am so excited that I asked Basira to cook for an imaginary 1 extra person aka left overs for tomorrow… Imaginary fist bump!
Every single dish was prepared with so much love and care. Thought was put not only into the taste, but also into the presentation of the dish… and so it not only tasted divine, but it looked beautiful.
A stand out dish in the mains, apart from the lamb shoulder, was the sweet potato gratin… I mean who would have thought to add curry leaves into the mix… of course Basira did! And this wasn’t even her most ‘exotic’ of dishes.
“One of my favourites is our ‘Pulut Hitam Cheesetart.’ It’s a traditional cheese tart with its buttery crust and creamy cheese custard, but topped with a glutinous black rice pudding that we cook al-dente. It’s a play on contrasts – texture of the smooth cheese against the bite of the rice, sweetness of the custard against the saltiness of the pulut.”
More About Basira Yeusuff
Private dinners are not the only thing that keeps Basira busy. She works on a range of projects, including one with Food Hero Asia winner Ili Suleiman called ‘Agak Agak.’
“My partner Ili Suleiman and I are in the works of opening an eatery that gives back not only to our community, but also to the food and beverage industry that we so love,” explains Basira. “Agak Agak is a training ground for us to teach apprentices from low income communities who have passion in the field. We aim to teach basic hospitality know-how, soft skills like how to act, to behave and how to feel even! We want our apprentices to have confidence, take pride and to fall in love with what they do.”
Currently Basira and Ili are working hard to get this project off the ground and will be starting a crowd-funding campaign to get community involvement. “We know that this is a big undertaking and are looking for assistance in any capacity be it monetary, personal support and guidance,” said Basira.
“Until we get the proper tools and funding to kickstart Agak Agak Apprenticeship program, Ili and myself will run a pop-up eatery at the location where we plan to make our future training grounds. Backed by our respective teams at – Dish By Ili and Root Cellar KL, Agak Agak will begin operations as a pop-up eatery starting in mid June 2016.”
So if you are in Kuala Lumpur and are looking for an evening of great food, definitely get into contact with Basira Yeusuff via Root Cellar KL to start the conversation.
Root Cellar KL offers its clients catering for any occasion imaginable, and also baked goods on request. The Limau Nipis Bundt Cake can be ordered through Root Cellar KL, and trust me it is worth your while. Root Cellar KL also partners with venues around Kuala Lumpur to organise pop up restaurants.