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Interview with Chef Tommes, Chef and Owner of That Little Wine Bar

Chef TommesWhat do you do if you’ve hunted high and low for a decent wine bar but there’s none to be found in your home town? For Chef Tommes and his wife Louise, the answer was simple – they opened their own! That Little Wine Bar in Georgetown, Penang, has attracted rave reviews (including on this very blog) for its relaxed ambience, superb wine and excellent food. Their second outlet, a New York-style delicatessen, opened in late 2011. What is it that you do exactly?
I am a Chef and owner of two restaurants in Georgetown, Malaysia. One is “That Little Wine Bar” which is an evening place with modern western cuisine and about 100 labels of wine, most of which we import ourselves. This way we don’t have to pay a distributor and therefore we can have high quality wines for affordable prices. The other outlet is a western-style delicatessen with seating space. It is called “Irrawaddy Fine Foods” because the street name is Jalan Irrawaddy. It is more like a lunch and retail outlet. Speciality cheeses, cold cuts and imported foods – and for the hungry guests we have soups, sandwiches, pizza and home-made cakes and daily home-made European-style breads. I am in both kitchens every day. I still enjoy cooking and teaching how things are done right. Oh – and we just started a new company: “The Penang Pork Company“. We make old-style pork sausages. Our best seller at the moment is the English Breakfast Sausage. Yum!!! We supply other restaurants and hotels with our products, as well as selling them at Irrawaddy Fine Foods, retail, and hot in our full English breakfast! I am also working on the pilot episode of a new series of a TV show for the Asian Food Channel.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The smiles on the faces of my customers, seeing them happy and enjoying the night with friends. I know then that my food and wine has made them comfortable and at ease and they can forget their daily work or other related issues for a while. That is the power of good food. It makes me smile, too, when I see people having a good time.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
The Galapagos Islands were maybe the best travel experience I ever had. Swimming and playing with the seals in the ocean. Amazing! Animals who are not afraid of humans. It was almost unreal. Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louise, Canada – five star service, set in a beautiful location. Pangkor Laut island in Malaysia – Malaysia’s best luxury beach resort.
What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?
I think that must have been at Heston Blumenthal’s “Fat Duck“… but Ducasse at Essex House in NYC or Tatsuya’s in Sydney are really not far behind.
Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?
More through work. I cooked for a couple of members of the British Royal Family, F1 drivers, Tom Cruise, Sir Simon Rattle, Chief Ministers and then some … You don’t really meet them. You cook for them, you say hello, handshake, small talk and then an excuse to go back into the busy kitchen to install order there again. I think a lot of them actually just want to be left alone.
What currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
I have a small place in France where I make my own wine. Nothing special. It is a quiet and relaxed place in the middle of nowhere. I love it. I want to be there. Right now.
Sounds idyllic, Tommes! Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and the best of luck with the new business and the TV show!

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One Comment

  1. Tommes and his partner Louise, and their staff always make you feel very welcome in their restaurants.

    In the evening TLWB is a very social environment. A great place for the male or female visitor to Penang who may be on their own. Everyone talks to you.

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