Chef Beh Gaik Lean's Journey From Factory Cook To Michelin Star

Adrian Tan knows his mother, Chef Beh Gaik Lean, has serious culinary talent, and after encouraging her to start a restaurant of her own in Penang, Tan wasn't the only one praising her dishes. For Lean, however, cooking isn't just about the food. Her Peranakan dishes are a nod to her culture and a way of preserving tradition. Lean makes all her recipes from scratch — including curry paste assembled from more than eight ingredients. 

Peranakan cuisine carries a multi-national flavor, serving up flavorful dishes influenced by Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Indonesian recipes. Lean admits her hard work in the kitchen has helped her go far in the restaurant industry, even reaching the plates of Malaysian royalty. Her mouth-watering menus certainly haven't gone unnoticed: Lean's Penang restaurant, Auntie Gaik Lean's Old School Eatery, has become a Michelin-starred restaurant. Yet unlike many other Michelin-awarded chefs, Lean has never received formal culinary training.

A dedicated family team

Lean never worked in a fine dining restaurant; instead, she cooked at Motorola factory until she opened her restaurant in 2013. "I was living with my grandmother while my mom would bring back food from her factory job since we were very poor at that time. I've always loved my mom's cooking," Tan told Michelin. "And I made it my mission to make her famous one day because of her food."

Inside Lean's cozy homestyle restaurant, generous portions are served to diners who have made reservations, often weeks in advance, and families pass large plates of food that have been prepared by Lean herself. The halal restaurant doesn't provide alcohol, but fizzy drinks flavored with nutmeg and coconut offer liquid refreshment to guests.

Together, Lean and Tan have made an accomplished, inspiring team, proving that with the right talent and focused hard work, there are no limits to what can be accomplished.