Dapur Malaysia Leeds: Meet the chef behind the Chapel Allerton restaurant serving recipes passed down through generations

Dapur Malaysia is a tribute to owner Valerie Kolat's mum - her biggest culinary inspiration.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 21st May 2022, 4:30 pm

Founded in 2015, initially as a street food business, the Chapel Allerton restaurant serves recipes handed down through generations, as well as Valerie's adaptations of Malaysian food.

The nation is known for its mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences and Valerie grew up with big flavours on her doorstep.

"I took for granted how much good food was available 24/7," she told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

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Valerie Kolat is the owner of Dapur Malaysia in Chapel Allerton (Photo: Tony Johnson)

"There’s a variety which I haven’t found anywhere else.

"You can get anything from stir fries and noodles to curries, because of that mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian."

Valerie moved to the UK in 1998 and worked in IT before she had her two boys, now aged 14 and 11.

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Valerie founded Dapur Malaysia in 2015 - initially as a street food business (Photo: Tony Johnson)

It was only when she was pregnant with her first child that she began to experiment in the kitchen, learning from her mum who had flown over to support her.

“The food here was so different and I was very homesick, I was craving Malaysian food," Valerie said.

“The cooking took off when I was pregnant with my eldest and my mum came over to help me.

"I just wanted him to have what I had growing up - always having nice, home-cooked food to eat.

"I spent lots of time in the kitchen with my mum, finding out how to balance different flavours.

“Cooking became therapeutic to me."

After her mum and dad died within months of each other, cooking became a "cathartic" release for Valerie, and an idea for a business began to form.

"The idea for the restaurant kicked off after my parents passed away," she said.

"I wanted it to be a legacy for my boys, to show them what it’s like to do something different and grow something from nothing.

“It happened very gradually - and naturally."

Despite having no professional training, Valerie became a regular face at street food markets across Yorkshire, before opening her restaurant in Chapel Allerton in 2019.

Her menu combines the recipes from her childhood, such as lentil curry and a South Indian pork curry, with Chinese fried noodles and traditional Malay dishes, such as Nasi Goreng.

Valerie said: “I wanted to bring something comforting to Leeds, serving home-cooked food in a laidback atmosphere.

“I try to balance the menu with Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes.

“But Malaysian food is so varied that you could have a menu with 100 different dishes and you still wouldn’t be able to cover everything.”

Valerie has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from her diners and hopes to expand her menu as her restaurant grows.

She added: "I’ve got a really good team at the restaurant and I’m really appreciative of our staff.

"You’re only as good as the people around you.

"The best thing about cooking is cooking for other people. I still don’t think of myself as a chef, even though I have a restaurant and I’ve been cooking professionally since 2015.

"To be able to see someone come into the restaurant and eat the food that I cook, and enjoy it, that’s definitely the best part of the job."

How to cook Valerie's Sothi curry

This light and fragrant coconut broth can be easily adapted to dietary requirements and is super healthy.

Valerie said: "As a child I didn't like spicy food and mum would often make this for me.

"I make this often at home when I am pressed for time. You can buy curry leaves in a large bunch from an Asian grocer and freeze them."

Ingredients:

1 can coconut milk

Handful of curry leaves (10/15 leaves)

2 tablespoons turmeric

Salt to taste

3 medium tomatoes, quartered

2 banana shallots thinly sliced

2 handfuls of spinach

1 lime (juice only)

Method:

1. In a small saucepan, add the coconut milk, water, turmeric, banana shallots and curry leaves.

2. Bring to boil, than simmer gently for 10 mins. Add tomatoes.

3. Continue to simmer for another 5 mins. (I like my tomatoes still firm, simmer longer if you want them softer). Add spinach and salt to taste (a tablespoon or more usually). Add lime juice, (1 tablespoon approximately). The lime juice cuts through the richness of the coconut milk.

4. Turn off the heat and eat with rice.

You can add any vegetables to this dish, or even thinly sliced meat or seafood - adjust seasonings accordingly.

Valerie suggests serving the dish with grilled salmon, or adding tofu, prawns or any firm fleshed fish.