Meet The Ipoh-Born Chef Who Just Became The First Malaysian Woman To Win A Michelin Star

Chef Kwen Liew from Ipoh is Malaysia’s first female Michelin-starred chef!

Kwen Liew (Photography: Kwen Liew / Facebook)

Late last March, Malaysian-born Kwen Liew and her husband Ryunosuke Naito opened Pertinence, a small restaurant in Paris that specialises in French cuisine cooked with Japanese techniques.

Less than a year later, the pair won their first Michelin star for the 2018 Michelin Guide for France, making Kwen one of the few women – and almost undoubtedly one of the first Malaysians – to earn the award.

Kwen and Ryunosuke at Pertinence (Photography: Restaurant Pertinence / Facebook)

The star was awarded to the couple for “their interpretations of French cuisine.” After a childhood in Ipoh, Kwen went on to study at the Le Cordon Bleu academy in Sydney and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Pâtisserie. Ryunosuke, who is from Japan, trained at numerous prestigious restaurants in Paris before the couple made the move to open a restaurant of their own.

Being a professional chef isn’t easy, but it’s even harder when you’re female, says Kwen.

“In the kitchen a woman has to always show that she is twice as good as a man,” she told the AFP.  “It is not easy for women in the kitchen. So I act like a man there. It depends on the mentality of the personnel, but (in general) men do not listen to women, they say, ‘We don’t give a damn what she says.'” However, she notes that she faces no such problems working at Pertinence, where she and her husband are the only ones in the kitchen!

Kwen Liew at the Michel awards ceremony (Photography: Restaurant Pertinence / Facebook)

With her Michelin star, Kwen joins a very small group of people– only 5% of Michelin-starred chef are women, although Michelin attributes that disparity to the lack of women in the profession. It’s also worth noting that the Michelin article announcing their win even gets Kwen’s title wrong, calling her a pastry chef when she is in fact a chef. A second video, also by Michelin, mistakenly labelled Kwen as being Japanese.

“I’m Malaysian!!!!!” she corrected them on Facebook.

You tell them, Kwen! Malaysia is so proud of you.