Esquire Malaysia + Esquire Singapore, September 2014
A Scoop Of Home
The Last Polka’s Tee May Yee goes from making ice cream inspired by Malaysia to going on TV to talk about Malaysia.
By Sophia Goh
As co-creator of the artisan ice cream brand The Last Polka, Tee May Yee certainly knows a thing or two about taste. With each handmade scoop, Tee and fellow founder Lee Ee Vee have won over taste buds and hearts with their unique, distinctive flavours such as Horlicks, Teh Tarik, Salted Gula Melaka, Pandan Kaya and White Coffee, just to name five. “We celebrate the Malaysian experience – its tastes, textures, flavours – through ice cream,” Tee says. “The Last Polka is an ongoing attempt at recreating our favourite memories of Kuala Lumpur in the ’90s, through equal parts innovation and nostalgia.”
That she’s been selected as one of this year’s Tastemakers – a TV special that celebrates homegrown, trailblazing talents in conjunction with National Day – is only fitting. After all, who better to talk about what it means to be a Malaysian tastemaker than this proud local who literally creates tastes that people love? “It’s an affirmation, a positive nudge that tells me I’m on the right path to doing what I set out to do as an entrepreneur and a Malaysian,” Tee admits. “I’ve had the good fortune to build an original brand and product that people fell in love with. The Last Polka occupies a unique space in the food scene – it goes beyond the basic ‘Made in Malaysia’ credentials. We are a truly independent brand built from the ground up, very DIY and band-of-sisters in spirit and character, and our success has been organically built.”
When asked what it takes to be a tastemaker, she doesn’t say passion, because “it seems like an obvious driver.” Instead, it’s “tenacity, far-flung ambition and an overwhelming desire to create change. Set in the context of the right environment – social, ideological and financial – it allows your ideas to flourish and resonate with the people around you.” There are parallels between being a tastemaker and being an actual conjuror of great tastes: both are about celebrating individuality – the uniqueness that sets one apart from all the others.
Describing the filming experience as “exhilarating and terrifying at the same time”, Tee’s inner foodie emerges when she likens being on TV to eating a big, juicy burger on a first date. “You know it’s going to be good, but the whole time you’re concerned about coming across in the best possible way – without sauce dribbling down your chin.”
As it turns out, alongside her big love for making creamy desserts in mouth-watering varieties is an ambition that fuels even bigger dreams. There’s a genuine, growing passion globally for Southeast Asian food experiences, Tee believes, and there are very real opportunities for those who dare to jump in and play. “I have bigger plans for The Last Polka. My problem is usually reining in the absurdity of ideas so that I can focus on growing the business in a productive, disciplined way. I’ll never stop dreaming, I think,” she says. Indeed she’s as worthy as her ice cream is delicious.