From the perspective of a Le Cordon Bleu teaching chef, can you tell us what sets the LCB training apart from other cooking schools?
At Le Cordon Bleu, we teach you technique and technique can be lent to any style of cooking. The variety of foods and the use of spice may change from country to country, but just like you cannot eat chicken raw or overcook fish, the technique does not change regardless of culture. Here in Malaysia, far more chilies and spices are used, as well as things like coconut and tamarind, but the fundamental techniques involved in the preparation and cooking of the main ingredients, such as meat or vegetables remain unchanged. With technique, you can lend yourself to any style of cooking. If you’re taking something as classical as Italian cooking and you’re making spaghetti, then you can also make noodles, and if you can make noodles, as a Chinese chef, you’re able to make spaghetti.
In your opinion, what is Malaysia lacking in its local varieties?
Meats are a challenge here in Malaysia because they are always imported. Ingredients are otherwise easy to get, and since you get the same weather all year round, with a few exceptions, you can always get almost anything for a good price. But when it comes to meat, most chefs tend to opt for the imported varieties which tend to be of a higher quality. Malaysia could follow Korea’s example by breeding its own hybrid cattle; Korea’s are now regarded as one of the best beef in the world.
When your students graduate, what do they have to anticipate when they enter the working world?
They have to never stop learning. Despite having been a chef for over 30 years, I have never stopped learning new recipes or new ways to make things. Life is a constant learning process and this is especially prevalent in the culinary world. Though the classics in the culinary world are still strong, new dishes are constantly being churned out, as well as new cooking methods. The worst thing you can do is assume that you know everything because that means you will never move further from where you are, and this kills of a lot of opportunities you could have.
Which local dish do you think holds the most potential overseas?
Laksa, nasi lemak, and other spicy foods should do well in countries such as England where curries are extremely popular. A nasi lemak outlet which sells just a simple nasi lemak, with our basic sambal and peanuts would be swamped once the popularity of the dish spreads. And a laksa soup is the perfect combination of sweet, sour, and spicy, an extremely tasty dish which would certainly win a lot of followers overseas.
What are your opinions on the local food varieties in Malaysia?
Malaysia has one of the richest and widest food varieties on the planet. The variety of cultures contribute to a wide array of dishes one can choose from when dining in Malaysia. When it comes to ingredients, Malaysia suffers from no lack of variety. The wet markets here are teeming with wide varieties of vegetables, fruits and seafoods which cannot be found elsewhere in the world. By buying your ingredients in the wet market, you can trust in the absolute freshness of these ingredients. I have even taken some of my students to the wet markets in Kuala Lumpur to shop for ingredients, so that those who are unaware could see what a wide and rich variety the markets here have. It is an absolute dream for any chef.
We hear you grow some of your own ingredients. What are your thoughts on this practice?
As a Hunter and Fisherman, I of course believe in the freshness of my ingredients. I know exactly what I am cooking and eating. I also feel much closer to my food because, when you hunt something, and when you kill the animal, there is a certain respect that passes because you become aware that something died for your meal. That makes you appreciate it more, and it makes you put more effort into cooking it, to make it the best meal it could possibly be. It’s the same with herbs and spices. I have in my garden several herbs as well as a coconut and papaya tree. When you have your own source of ingredients such as those, you can trust that that is the absolute freshest you can get. There is no meal better than one seasoned with herbs from your own garden, harvested by your own hands barely an hour ago. That’s why I encourage everyone who has the space to grow a few plants and trees that they could use in a garden. Or, if they lack the space, to get a little window box where they can grow some basic herbs like basil or dill.