We have now arrived in the world of reality television. While in previous years it had been about how high a note you could sing and how well you could entertain the crowd, certain celebrity chefs the world over have brought about a new revolution of reality-TV-cooking. A great deal of interest has been piqued in the population, and more and more are people viewing cooking as a past-time worth pursuing – not merely as a chore to be droned over by yesteryear’s housewives.
There is worth and wit in cooking, ideas, joy, and fun.
We converge upon Le Cordon Bleu’s conference room, perched upon Versailles-que chairs in that distinct blue. The chef that sits before us is many things – celebrity, songwriter, musician, motivational speaker, businessman, chef. With a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and soon to receive a doctorate in psychology, it’s anyone’s guess how he ended up walking the path of the Master Chef.
While it is all too easy to imagine the pomp of a celebrity chef, more so that of an accomplished one, we are warmly greeted. Dato’ Fazley Yaakob is not a man for excessive grandeur, with none of the expectations that people should be falling on their knees to greet him. What shines through is a warm, friendly persona and a willingness to share his story.
It’s certainly an inspiring one, after all. While the average home cook may box themselves in on the account that they are non-professionals, Dato’ Fazley shows us through his work and accomplishments that breaking free of that mould is not merely a possibility – it is inevitable, if one wishes to expand upon their talents in the kitchen. For him, however, it was serendipity.
Once the executive director of PWTC, the sterling personality had formed up a production house, a telemanagement company, a trading company, and was in the midst of singing, acting and hosting when fate threw him under the lights of Master Chef Selebriti Malaysia. What started out as a misunderstanding, in which he had thought he had been engaged as a mentor for the chefs, became a whirlwind adventure of skillet-flying fun in the kitchen – it was not a mentor the show’s producers had sought, but a contestant. One in sixteen, in fact. For a man who had, previously, cooked only during his wife’s pregnancy, one can imagine how daunting a task it must have been.
He ruminates the first dish contestants had cooked. “We were given the task to create goreng pisang. So I made mine a goreng pisang on a pavlova – that was my first time making a pavlova, anyways. And from then on, I kept winning the competitions, and when I won Master Chef, it was a big surprise for me, especially for someone who can’t even cook rice to save his life. I experimented a lot in Master Chef, and thankfully everything worked.”
It’s difficult to believe that this is the same man who’d cooked only minimally, previously. We see it on television all the time. Master Chef, Iron Chef, Top Chef, The Taste – every single person who starts out on these cooking competitions are in some way experienced in the kitchen. Dato’ clearly has some raw talent – and failing that, some mad skills.
His story is certainly one to inspire the laypeople, those among you and I who cook in the comfort of their own homes, loving their creations and spreading the joy, but always without the gateway into the world of professional cooking. Some think it unnecessary, but Dato’ certainly isn’t among them.
Following his ascent to the Master Chef Selebriti Malaysia throne, Dato’ found himself introduced to Le Cordon Bleu. It was in Le Cordon Bleu Sunway that he’d undertaken a Diplôme de Commis Pâtissier – a diploma in the pastry line. Within six months itself, he’d become the top student, eventually earning the honour of finishing his course in the school’s Parisian campus.
Of course, with this being a once-in-a-lifetime experience, he said yes.
He goes on to explain his decision. “It’s amazing to be able to learn from the best chefs in the industry. Lessons about the French technique is something that I think is not easy to come by in daily life. They teach you by explaining the practicality of understanding recipes, scientifically even, odd as it sounds – measurements have to be precise, you have to understand temperatures, ovens, everything. So in this way, Le Cordon Bleu Sunway has allowed me to diversify my cooking, because it taught me about butter, it taught me about sugar, it taught me about flour. Being in Le Cordon Bleu is an honour, because everyone knows it’s one of the best. It’s something I think, Malaysians should encounter, or experience. Everyone can cook, but not everyone knows why certain things are cooked using certain ingredients and techniques.”
With over a century of experience in the culinary teaching world, the Blue Ribbon school is undoubtedly one of the world’s finest where fine French cuisine is concerned. Age-old cooking techniques and methods are passed from student to mentor in close-knit classes. To be a Cordon Bleu graduate is to be ascended into the ranks of the greats. Dato’ recalls many hours of anguish spent hand-crafting sugar rosettes, then watching as hawk-eyed instructors bent upon perfection tore his work down. Those are the standards held to Blue Ribbon students – if you’re not good enough, you don’t pass.
Still, it goes without saying that the experience was entirely worth it all. Dato’ speaks fondly of his days in the Blue Ribbon Institute – despite the iron fists of perfection he’d endured, the months spent learning French so as to properly communicate and understand the desires of his mentors, the end result was one he greatly revels in. Candidly, Dato’ jokes about the reality of his culinary knowledge when faced with the teachings of Le Cordon Bleu – everything he had thought was right, was in fact wrong. “Le Cordon Bleu taught me the right way of doing things. The correct understanding of sugar and dough among other things. It has given me sharper skills, through which I can teach others. I want to inspire people, and so with me it’s all about teaching people the right way. Now, I can explain why things are done the way they are. All this, I’ve acquired in Le Cordon Bleu.”
With the great many accolades he has secured for himself, Dato’ is nonetheless easy-going in describing himself. “You know there’s a saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’? I disagree with that. I try to master every field. It’s all about inspiring others.”
Inspiration plays a key role in the burgeoning of passion, naturally. For the aspiring home cook, Dato’ very much recommends a stint at Le Cordon Bleu. To be a qualified chef is one thing – to learn to be a qualified chef is another, and Dato’ is all about education, gathering knowledge and learning the lessons laid down by people who know better. The passion-driven cook would certainly find, in Le Cordon Bleu, a gateway through which they may advance their skills. And while it is difficult for most people to be the Jack of all trades, and to master them all, Dato’ has without a doubt shown that it is possible in the very least, to master the culinary arts.