Saturday, February 23, 2013

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Auria's Malaysian Kitchen: Over 2,000 Served!

 It all began a little over three weeks ago when a friend of mine sent me this link on Facebook and asked "u gonna be there??" It was for an event called the Malaysian Winter Market at Bryant Park on Feb 20th and 21st. I took a quick look at the dates and decided it was much too close to the event to even consider it. If you've ever had any dealings with Malaysian officialdom at any level, you know that nothing happens in three weeks. Absolutely nothing.
I promptly forgot all about it until my husband spotted it on my FB feed. "So you're doing this Winter Market thing, right?" My dearest Wife Pusher was on to it and there was nothing I could do about it but lie. "Oh yeah, I emailed them already", while still knowing in my heart that I was going to do no such thing. The next day he asked me again "So what do you need to do for this Winter Market thing?" What's a lying girl to do, but keep on lying - "I'm not sure, I've sent an email. Let's see if I hear back". By now I felt bad enough about lying to the man I love, the one I've chosen to spend my life with, the father of our offspring that I decide it can't hurt to send a little email. Right?
I do some creative Googling and come up with the email address for the Malaysian Trade Commissioner himself. I send a little email. I get a response "Dear Auria, Thank you for your e-mail. Unfortunately due to the constraints in the exhibition space, all booths have been taken. Warm regards..." Ah, as I expected. Back to business as usual - now what was I doing before this little bump in the road?
Two hours later I get an email from the company that is organizing the entire event. I froze in my seat. "Hi Auria, Thanks so much for being in touch with MATRADE regarding interest in participating in the Malaysian Winter Market event. We have a last-minute opening for the market and would love for you to be a featured vendor."
Horror of horrors - is it time for me to get out there and play with the big boys?! Say it isn't so! Who's going to be at this event again? Nyonya - my favorite Malaysian spot in all of NYC. Laut - best Malaysian restaurant outside of Chinatown and Flushing. Bentara - named Best Malaysian Restaurant outside of Malaysia. THE BIG BOYS! And little ol' me?!!!
The email explained that as long as I could get all my paperwork in to them by noon the next day, I could participate. I can't explain it, something took ahold of my timid little newbie chef soul and made me do it. I was a woman possessed. I put Neena to bed that night, printed out the copious amounts of paperwork, then meticulously went through each and every page. I was at the Department of Health at 8:45 the next morning and by 10:30am I was at the offices of RF|Binder who were organizing the entire event with the  completed paperwork and DOH permit in hand. I left their office at around 11am - it was a freezing Winter's day, but my heart was on fire, and my mind was about to explode! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!!!!!

Me & my 40qt pot!
With less than two weeks to go, I set to work planning - figuring out portions, scaling up my recipes. I was making four dishes - Beef Rendang Sliders, Chili Crab Sliders, Sweet & Spicy Ikan Bilis, & CocoDew, a coconut milk, honeydew and pearl tapioca beverage. I've made all these things for various Farmers' Markets and fancy night markets before, but never in these quantities. I started sharing the event on FB and on Twitter. If I was going to be cooking tons of food, I wanted to make sure that people knew where I would be and come eat it.
Friends started calling and emailing with offers of help - cooking help, schlepping help, serving help. I picked a couple of friends to help - people whom I knew I could count on to be there, to be extra eyes and hands, to stay out of the way yet be a part of the process. I shopped and shopped. I cooked and cooked and cooked.
Tuesday night before the event, my dear friend Amy Goff who had been cooking with me since Monday decided that we needed a drink and some play time with Neena before we went to bed. My poor neglected little girl - mommy had been in Auria's Malaysian Kitchen mode for days. We built the "Empire State Smiley-Face Building" with her. Many rounds of "Sequin Patterns" a made up game of ours and three rum and cokes later, I went to bed. I can't really explain it, but I had been operating on auto-pilot since early Monday morning. The best way to explain it is that parts of my brain were shut down and other parts were working overtime. The bad parts were silenced. The good parts were enhanced. I felt some sort of magic surrounding the entire process.
February 20th. I'm up at 5am. I'm down in the kitchen making the CocoDew. 7am - Patrick Meyer shows up - the brawn (and the brains, we later realize :o) of the operation. We're on our way to Bryant Park before 8am.
The lunch session was supposed to begin at 11:30, but by 11am there were eager folks milling about our table, waiting impatiently for us to get going. We were working on setting up our stations and figuring out the flow for the sliders etc. First we decided that I would be in the back putting the sandwiches together. The Trade Commissioner came by for a quick chat. He said "You're one very lucky woman - do you know how lucky you are?" A couple of media people came by as well and Amy, in all her wisdom said "You need to be in the front, talking to people. Because this is your thing and you need to be the one talking to everyone!" 
At 11:30, we put our gloves on and our heads down and went to work. We didn't get a second to look up until 2:30 when the lunch session was done. There was a line extending to my right that I could not see the end of, and that I never did see the end of. The RF|Binder people came up now and then to let me know that I had a line extending all the way to the front doors of the tents. Someone from NBC came over to talk to me, but there wasn't a moment to spare. Apparently the crowd was hungry and the crowd had to be fed. Various friends came by - some waited in the line and told me how long they had waited. Others just came up to me and said "This line in crazy, I'm not waiting in line - I'll just come to your house for dinner!" :o)
After the lunch session was over, Amy, Patrick and I went to a nearby cafe and collapsed into chairs with coffee. I was a little overwhelmed by what had just happened. Folks had told us that they had been in line for 40 minutes. Friends were talking pictures of the line to show me what was going on. We all decided that the same thing couldn't possibly happen during the dinner session. How wrong we were. It was even crazier at dinner time. We began at 5:30 and by 7:15 were completely sold out of everything. Each time, the Chili Crab was the first to go, followed by the Sweet & Spicy Ikan Bilis, followed by the CocoDew and finally the Beef Rendang.
The same thing happened the following day but with a much longer line at both the lunch and dinner sessions. I'm not gloating or boasting, but merely stating a fact when I say that there weren't any lines for the other vendors at this event. Ok, ok, I'm gloating. I wouldn't be human if I wasn't. The organizers told me that Nyonya had a line about 10 deep for a little while at lunch the day before - as they should, considering that's where I go when I crave the flavors of home. The crew at the table to my left were standing there with arms crossed pretty much the entire time. The crew on my right were upset that my line was "preventing people from getting to their table". When we arrived at 9am on the second day of the event, the organizers had set up stanchions and rope to guide our line so that it wouldn't block access to the other tables. At lunch on that 2nd day, folks were coming up and buying six of each kind of slider. In hindsight, I'm wondering if we should have put a limit on how many sliders each person could buy. You know, just to spread the love around. Yes, no, maybe?
My friend Frank Simms said "I TOLD you you invited too many people!!!! I stopped by TWICE and it was like backstage at a Madonna concert. I stood in line for 30 minutes and moved 3 feet! No other food stalls had anywhere near as many people queuing up. Congratulations!! Now you can begin opening chains all over the country and buy an island! I'd wait in line for this cooking ANYTIME!!!
A fellow Kitchensurfing chef, Henrietta Bagazonzya said "I longed to be inside the heated tents, but the long line that started at the entrance of the park was to my surprise specifically for one Malaysian vendor - Auria's Malaysian Kitchen. I thought, 'this can't be...one line?' An hour later, I was finally at the front of the line and it was worth the wait folks! Beef rendang on a slider that melted in my mouth like butter ya'll!" 
Turns out that it wasn't such a big deal playing with the big boys at this event after all. It's not how much you've done, or what you've done or how much of a name you've made for yourself. If you throw enough heart and passion into something, then get yourself out of the way - magic happens!

 
 In these two pictures, taken from the outside of the tents, you can see the crew at the first table on the right watching the action at our table. Then AMK next to them with the line extending to the left all the way out the front doors of the tents.





My Sweet & Spicy Ikan Bilis.
Lunch-time Line
Dinner-time Line
Chili Crab Sliders - next time I'll make twice as many!

video


Auria's Malaysian Kitchen would like to thank Mr Muhd Shahrulmiza Zakaria, Trade Commissioner/Consul (Trade), MATRADE & RF|Binder for organizing such a great event and doing an amazing job of spreading the word and getting the public to attend. The response was overwhelmingly positive and it was a wonderful experience from that very first email to the absolute end. A very warm thank you also, to the 2000 or so people who came to the event and chose to stand in line, in some cases for up to an hour just to experience my cooking. Your commitment to these sliders and nutty fish is beyond anything I ever expected and I am forever grateful.
I would also like to thank Amy Goff, the best sous chef a girl could ever have and an up-and-coming Chef-to-watch in her own right. A big thank you to Patrick Meyer - the brains of the entire operation and the man in charge of all the schlepping and crowd communication (ie. announcing to the crowd that we were out of crab etc.) You had such a nice way of handling the crowd, I would have been lost without you. Thank you also to Elaine Goff - the hottest bun-slinger known to man. I love you to the ends of the earth, Blondie. The three of you together gave me so much confidence - I knew that no matter what happened either of those days, I was in good company and we would work it out together. I love you guys.
A big shout out and a BIG thank you to Judith Singer-Stevens of Third-Hand Brooklyn Services who schlepped me all around town on my shopping expeditions and drove us into and out of Manhattan on both days. You are a G*dsend in every way.
A very tender and heartfelt thank you to my husband and daughter - the lights of my life. I do it all for you. You are the inspiration and the motivation. Every Single. Day.
And of course, the biggest thank you to my Mum, the source of it all, without whom none of this would be possible.
Ok,  SO WHAT'S NEXT? :o)

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