DON’T put any of this on YouTube, okay? I’ll get in so much trouble!”
That was what Chef Wan said to one of our cameras at the end of probably the most devilishly entertaining cooking demo we had ever seen – and it was exclusive to us and the five talented young chefs who made it to the R.AGE Food Fight finals.
With the R.AGE Food Fight live cook-off less than a week away, we gave the finalists – chef Ahong Yeang, food blogger and singer Kelly Siew, food stylist and home baker Li-anne Kuek, restaurant owner Nurilkarim Razha and home cook Ashley Pan – an intimate session with Chef Wan. And it did get a little too intimate at times, if you know what we mean …
“When you squeeze lemons, you have to do it like Nigella. Use the assets god has given you!” he said, while doing his rather liberal impersonation of how fellow celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, well, squeezes her lemons.
Ahong, who himself sent in a pretty hilarious submission video to earn his spot in the final, was blown away by Chef Wan’s talent and professionalism.
“His session was very surprising! You don’t get to see this side of him on TV, and I don’t think you get to pay to see this either. The full version of him is so much better than the edited version. It really felt like a once in a lifetime oportunity,” said Ahong.
No surprise, then, that Chef Wan’s most recent honour was the Best Television Chef in Asia title at the 2015 Gourmand Awards.
But it wasn’t all fun, games and crazy jokes. Chef Wan made sure he imparted some important skills and knowledge to the finalists as well, all while cooking a delicious nyonya laksa and chicken tajine for everyone present.
“People always think being a TV chef is easy, but it’s not!” he said. “You need to plan very well – arrange your ingredients, your tools, your pots and pans on the workstation – so you won’t be kelam-kabut when you are presenting.
“You also have to be a historian. I do a lot of research on the recipes I’m preparing, especially when I’m shooting overseas, so I can tell the audience the history behind every dish.”
Aside from his role as a mentor, Chef Wan is also on the Food Fight judging panel, and he’s excited to see the finalists’ performance at this Saturday’s grand finale – a live cook-off to see who will be our first ever R.AGE Food Fight champion.
The winner won’t just get bragging rights, but will also be given a food column in The Star, a video series produced by R.AGE, a Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia knife set by Wüsthof (used by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart) and RM10,000.
“The first thing I noticed about the finalists was their personality and confidence,” said Chef Wan. “Knowledge can be learnt, but character and confidence needs to come from you. And if you have the gift of the gab, chances are, you’ll succeed.
“We have so many young talents, in all shapes and sizes. I think Malaysians need to learn to appreciate them more and help them achieve their potential.”
On a personal level, Chef Wan said it was important the finalists constantly monitor their health, as being a food celebrity or chef can put a lot of strain on the body – there are long hours, late nights, and a lot of eating.
“That’s why when you cook, you should cook with sincerity and love. The portions need to be sensible and the cooking needs to be responsible. I believe that indulging is living, but you still have to eat smart. You can’t eat gulai tempoyak every day of the week!”
At 57, Chef Wan’s youthful complexion and buoyant energy begs the question – is it something in his food? “I come from a family with a history of longevity. I’m lucky. And a positive mind goes a long way. Indulge and enjoy, exercise and stay healthy. Everything else is just laziness.” He was also pleased with the diversity of the finalists, as he firmly believes there can be a market for everyone in the food industry. “It’s like choosing a husband or wife. Some like them big, some like them small, some go for the serious ones while others like the chatty ones. There’s no one formula to become successful. The world has a wide audience. For the R.AGE Food Fight, it’s more about their personality and confidence.” The R.AGE Food Fight is a search for Malaysia’s next young food celebrity. Participants were asked to submit videos of themselves cooking up a storm in their kitchens using a featured ingredient, palm oil, and mention at least one of its many benefits. The illustrious panel of judges – Chef Wan, French master chef Rodolphe Onno, Chef Darren Chin from DC Restaurant, top food blogger KY Speaks and performing artiste/chef Tan Chung Liang – then picked the five finalists based on the personality, culinary skills and overall passion for food they showed in their submission videos. The amount of talent the judges were able to unearth was so amazing, we’re already looking forward to R.AGE Food Fight 2016! Watch this space. Stay tuned to rage.com.my/foodfight for the video of Chef Wan’s Food Fight masterclass!
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