Malai Kitchen's Owners Keep Traveling the World and Bringing Home Flavors for You
Braden and Yasmin Wages of Malai Kitchen are two of my favorite people in the Dallas restaurant business. Maybe it's Yasmin's warm smile. Maybe it was the time Braden teared up a bit when talking about her. Or maybe it's because they take these amazing culinary excursion to far corners of the world, and I want to go.
Braden and Yasmin Wages
But mostly it's that their restaurant is their baby and their customers are like guests in their own home. And their work never stops. Last year, the couple spent five days in Hanoi, Vietnam, immersing themselves in the street-food culture of the city. They perused the markets where local cooks shop and ate most of their meals from street vendors or in restaurants that resembled a garage more than a proper dining room, sometimes in a hallway with footstools for chairs. Other times the streets turned into a restaurant.
This past April they traveled to Bangkok, where Braden staged at the famed Bolan for a day, then traveled north to the city of Chiang Mai. They also spent time with one of the leading experts on Thai cuisine and author of Principles of Thai Cookery, Chef McDang.
"I got to see what chef McDang purchased at the markets," Braden says. "Just being able to see the ingredients they use is wonderful and then how they always put the produce front and center is great."
Braden, who backpacked through Asia for three months after culinary school years ago, explains that they make these annual trips as a way to refocus the menu and cooking at Malai.
"Over time there is a tendency to drift," he says, "and the travel helps us re-center."
In addition to shopping at markets with McDang and cooking classes at Bolan, the Wages ate like locals, which means soup from small boats and noodles at the market.
Back at home, they incorporate dishes and flavors they picked up along the way in the kitchen and on the menu, mostly as daily specials like (like a Chiang Mai curry noodle and braised lamb shank with massaman curry) but sometimes as permanent fixtures, like the chicken and egg congee, Thai omelette and eggs Benedict on the brunch menu.
In October, Braden will travel to Acapulco, where he'll lead a seminar and cooking demonstration comparing Thai and Mexican cuisine along with Mico Rodriguez. After that, Braden says it might be southern Vietnam. Meaning only one thing: the menu at Malai won't get stale.