MasterChef Australia had dedicated foodies on the edge of their couches for months. We caught up with Adam Liaw, the latest well-deserved winner.
You were a media lawyer before you became a full-time chef - how do your legal skills translate into the world of food?
Law is all about problem solving, and I think MasterChef is a lot like that too.
You have to work out the best thing to do within the time you are given, so I tried to look at each challenge from a different angle to work out how I should approach it.
You reportedly didn't watch the first series of MasterChef. What made you decide to enter the competition?
A lot of my friends had watched the show and they all said I should try out for it, because they know how much I love cooking.
I ended up applying and went to the audition. It was really fun, so I decided to give it a go even though I had to resign from my job and move from Japan to Australia.
You're the son of a Malaysian-born Chinese father and a Singaporean-born English mother. What do you love about Malaysian food and what defines your take on it?
I don’t like the phrase, but Malaysian food truly is a “melting pot”.
There are a lot of types of Malaysian food and I think, in the past, a lot of people in Australia might not have known the difference between a Malaysian curry and an Indian curry, for example, but as we’re now so much more interested in food, people can tell you that difference.
What's the secret to the perfect (and most authentic) Malaysian laksa?
That’s difficult! The Penang laksa I grew up with is a fishy broth soured with tamarind that would bequite alien to the Western palate.
What most Westerners call “laksa” is known in Malaysia as laksa lemak (coconut laksa). This is the more common dish across South East Asia. You must also have a nice sambal to finish off a laksa.
The fruit of your MasterChef win is your book, Two Asian Kitchens (Ebury Press, R395). Tell us a bit about the cookbook. Why two kitchens?
The book is divided into two sections: the old kitchen and the new kitchen.
I wanted to do traditional recipes to show the history of the cooking, and then modern recipes, which is more how I cook now. Within the old kitchen you’ll find hawker noodle dishes, Japanese yakitori, creamy coconut laksa and, my favourite, Hainanese chicken rice. They are dishes of my history.
The new kitchen features modern dishes that draw on memorable flavours and experiences of my life.
You have plans to open a Japanese Izakaya restaurant in Sydney with Tokyo-based Australian chef Matthew Crabbe. Tell us a bit more about the Izakaya experience.
An izakaya is a popular and informal Japanese casual food and drinking establishment that serves food and drinks.
It has taken us longer than we thought to find a site, so we are now only going to open early next year. We will be serving things like yakitori, potato salad, grilled and raw fish – the simple, casual style of Japanese food that I learned to love when I lived in that country.
What's the best piece of advice another chef has ever given you?
Australian-based Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda told me that taste is 60 percent to do with texture and 40 percent to do with flavour.
It really changed the way I look at dishes and now I think about whether the textures go together too, and it has hugely changed the way I cook.
Who were you most surprised at leaving the competition?
Marion. Luckily they didn’t show the part off -camera where I was crying like a baby!
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