GELUGOR: “Hi, thank you for contacting Dr Chef. If we don’t respond to you immediately, we’re either baking, delivering or saving someone’s life!”
This quirky message greets hungry customers who call in to place their order of Blooming Seasons Custom Sushi Cake by Dr Chef of Penang.
Dr Chef’s cakes have become so popular that even Australians and Singaporeans order them as gifts for their families in Penang.
Interestingly, Dr Chef’s cakes are not your usual chocolate or red-velvet varieties with sweet frosting but colourful layers of rice, a heavenly mentaiko sauce for a savoury punch of flavour and seafood.
And who is Dr Chef? Well, it’s made up of Dr Ooi Ben Shyen, 37, and Goh Yewen, 26.
When not tending to patients at the hospital’s emergency ward, Ooi can be found in his kitchen, tending to his sticky sushi cakes.
Goh is the main chef and is often up till midnight prepping for the barrage of customer orders she receives daily.
While the duo’s sushi cakes have been an overnight success, the initial plan was to sell the cakes as a means to raise funds to settle the overhead costs of their two rock-climbing gyms.
“Our gyms were forced to close for five months and we were still paying the overhead expenses and staff salaries,” Ooi says, referring to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown.
“So, all my doctor’s salary was going towards keeping them open,” he says with a sigh.
The duo opened Hangout Climbing Gym in 2018 at The Palazzia, and when business took off, they opened the second gym at Metro Avenue last year.
Besides scaling rocks, the couple love cooking, a shared activity they indulged in when the country went into lockdown.
It may be hard to imagine, but sushi cakes weren’t on the original Dr Chef menu.
“We weren’t selling cakes before. We were selling sushi bakes which were our best sellers for three months,” Ooi says, revealing that some customers ordered a batch every single week.
“Then early this month one of our regular customers asked us to make a sushi cake.”
A sushi bake was one thing but a sushi cake was a multi-layered puzzle, something they had never attempted before.
The duo was initially hesitant, but their customer persisted and paid them RM150 up front to come up with the ‘cake’.
After hours of scouring the internet for ideas and painstakingly planning the cake’s construction down to the last detail – they assembled their first ever rainbow sushi cake.
Goh gushes when remembering that it not only tasted superb but was a sight to behold. More importantly, their customer absolutely loved it.
Orders for October are through the roof, Goh says, with 35 cakes confirmed and more coming in.
The Blooming Seasons Custom Sushi Cake is so sought after as each layer carries a different flavour profile.
“Yewen named the cake and there’s actually four seasons inside it,” Ooi shares, adding that the colours form a beautiful gradient.
“It’s really poetic, like summer is the ebi fry and egg, while spring is the smoked salmon,” he explains.
The bottom layer of their snow-white rice is speckled with seaweed and topped with creamy avocado followed by the autumnal flavours of crab and a generous layer of fish roe that sets off like fireworks of flavour.
The crowning jewel is the golden circle of deep-fried prawns accompanied with the couple’s secret mentaiko sauce, making this cake truly creamy and decadent.
Despite working 13 years as an emergency doctor and “thriving on chaos”, Ooi reveals that nothing prepared him for the pressures of running a food business.
“A lot of the skills I learnt in the emergency department, when it comes to CPR and saving people’s lives, are interestingly applied here as well,” the doctor reveals, adding that once his apron comes off, he dons his hospital garb for his 8pm to 8am shift at the hospital.
It’s back-breaking work for sure but with their rock-climbing business saved, Ooi and Goh are feeling pretty blessed.