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Growing up, I have always have a keen interest in watching cooking shows and cooking competitions, and among the personalities I was familiar with on TV, Chef Wan has always stood out as the one true Malaysian hero who tirelessly promote Malaysian cuisine. I mean, there are plenty chefs out there who are good at various types of international food, but how many of them can truly represent Malaysia on the international level?

Well, on the 31st of October, 2015, I got the honor of working with the one and only Chef Wan on the same panel of judges in The Star R.AGE’s first ever Food Fight. It was a bit of a dream came true moment for me, a tick off the bucket list that I never even dared pen in.

Rage Food Fight, published on 17/11/2015
R.AGE Food Fight finale, published on 17/11/2015

The article of the finale came out on the newspaper on the 17/11/2015, if you have a copy at hand, do read, otherwise head to http://rage.com.my/foodfight for the articles online.

Over here I just want to jot down the experience I had on the event, just so that I can re-read this space in years to come.

the dishes prepared by the contestants
the dishes prepared by the contestants

The competition was fairly straight forward, each contestants had some 15 minutes to present their food and show it to the judges. After that we were served the very same dishes and comment on them.

Judging was based on a mixture of “personality”, taste, and presentation.

The dishes created by the contestants were actually pretty interesting:

  • Nurilkarim Razha – Baked fish with prawn otak-otak mousseline served with ulam pesto and paku salad
  • Ahong Yeang – Roasted chicken with coconut gravy, served with a side of ulam rice and long beans and offals
  • Li-Anne Kuek – Pumpkin & walnut loaf with white chocolate & pumpkin ganache, honeycomb, yogurt sorbet & milk crumb
  • Kelly Siew – Garlic prawn tart with pineapple and tomato chutney
  • Ashley Pan – Tuna and watermelon tartare served with basil ice cream

The presentations were very good, and the taste department too mostly quite interesting. My favorite was the blend of local ingredients with modern touch in Nuril’s dish, with Ahong’s chicken in close second. As for the delivery, Ahong was the most entertaining, with Li-Anne sounding most professional, and Nuril being most balanced.

Nuril was crowned as the winner
Nuril was crowned as the winner

At the end, after tallying up the score sheet with a bit of final discussions among the judges, Nuril emerged as the first Food Fighter by unanimous decision.

He was basically the “complete package” and the one who did the best on the day overall. I was also happy that a fellow Penangite took the crown as well, and it was well deserved.

what an honor to work alongside my hero in Malaysian cuisine - Chef Wan
what an honor to work alongside my hero in Malaysian cuisine – Chef Wan

It was an interesting experience for me being on a panel with fellow judges whom all have much higher qualifications in doing this than me. Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia master chef Rodolphe Onno was very professional and direct, Chef Tan Chung Liang, a new comer in the scene had proper professional training, Darren Chin, owner of the highly-rated DC Restaurant definitely had a taste for fine foods, and of course, Chef Wan needs no introduction.

Thank you, The Star, for the opportunity.

Chef Wan is my favorite Malaysian celebrity chefs of all. The man has arguably done the most for Malaysian cuisine than anyone ever had. I was genuinely proud when I saw his cooking show on TV when I was in Vietnam.

The man is my hero.

Chef Wan went around and gave tips to the contestants
Chef Wan went around and gave tips to the contestants

I finally got to see the man in real life a couple Saturdays ago during Pencarian Chef Selebriti 2 dan Gas PETRONAS event. Together with Petronas Dagangan Berhad‘s Nik Faizanira Nik Affandi, and Berita Harian‘s Jami’ah Sokri, they were the panel of judges for the event.

Pencarian Chef Selebriti 2 with Petronas Gas and BH at the Curve
Pencarian Chef Selebriti 2  Berita Harian dan Gas PETRONAS at the Curve, Damansara

Before I got ahead of myself, Pencarian Chef Selebriti 2 BH dan Gas PETRONAS is the second year of the unique competition that has the aim to find chefs who has interesting personality, highly eloquent, and be able to communicate and capture audience with his/her culinary knowledge. Of course, one must also be able to cook up great dishes.

Our hosts of the day were two very funny guys – Angah Raja Lawak and Mie Raja Lawak.

Mohd Zamri bin Sahari, the emcees, Kamarudin bin Dali, Riza bin Ismail
Mohd Zamri bin Sahari, the emcees, Kamarudin bin Dali, Riza bin Ismail

The competition was separated into two main categories – individual and professional. Kimberly and I attended the event just as the professional category was getting started.

These were the three finalists

  • Mohd Zamri bin Sahari, 25, Culinary lecturer and freelance chef
  • Riza bin Ismail, 28, Executive Chef
  • Kamarudin bin Dali, 38, Hotel Chef

and they had one hour to prepare an appetizer and a main dish
and they had one hour to prepare an appetizer and a main dish

The chefs were given one hour to come up with an appetizer and a main dish to impress the judges. Ample ingredients were given, which includes seafood, vegetable, meat, mushroom, seasonings, and so on. Blender, pots, pans, knife and all other necessary kitchen utensils were available as well.

While there’re kitchen helpers for the individual event, professional chefs had to do it all by themselves.

Ayu OIAM, Baby Shima, and Adam AF were among the performers
Ayu OIAM, Baby Shima, and Adam AF were among the p performers

While the contestants were busy cooking, we were entertained by Ayu OIAM, Baby Shima, and Adam AF. Chef Wan also went around to the contestants to give advice and asked questions as well.

An hour later, all three chefs successfully completed their two dishes each.

a photo with the contestants and judges, before tasting begins
a photo with the contestants and judges, before tasting begins

Then there’s judging time, and boy was Chef Wan an awesome judge.

He was harsh, to the point, and absolutely non-nonsense in his criticism to each dish and the contestants. It was a bit like Simon Cowell, except maybe with even more drama.

Case in point – “if orang mat salleh eat your under cooked potato, they’ll throw it to you”.

To be fair, he also gave some very good advice. If anything, I am now even more impressed with Chef Wan.

Chef Wan was harsh, to the point, and very very good in his critics
Chef Wan was harsh, to the point, and very very good in his critics

Among the dishes mussels in Thai sauce (which was criticized by Chef Wan for deviating away from 1Malaysia theme), salmon with begedil, deep fried tiger prawns, roti jala and so forth. They were beautifully decorated.

and here are your winners! congratulations
and here are your winners! congratulations

At the end, Mohd Zamri bin Sahari was crowned as the champion. His bergedil with pan seared salmon was praised by Chef Wan, and on top of that, I thought he was the most eloquent among the three contestants as well. The prize was RM 10,000, and a 6 month contract for Berita Harian penning the cooking column.

Riza bin Ismail and Kamarudin bin Dali came in as 2nd and 3rd place.

In the individual category, Chua Tor Aik won the top prize, while Azman Abu Samah and Rosni binti Johari were 2nd and 3rd.

I wish the best to the winning chefs and to the runner ups, there’s always next year.

After the event I tried to replicate the winning main dish – bergedil with pan seared salmon. It turned out to be a pretty simple dish to make, and one that wasn’t bad at all when it comes to taste as well. Check out the video!