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How does your heritage inspire your cooking?
Being a child migrant, I was keen to shed anything that made me different but in doing so, I’ve lost so much of my culture. Food has enabled me to keep that link to my past and given me a real drive to have something to hand on to fellow Australians and family. I’ve also realised the gentle power of food to communicate love between generations that might not be able to speak the same language anymore, so it’s become something very important to me.
What is your favourite dish to eat when you’ve had a bad day?
Leftover rice with a generous scoop of sambal belacan, 3 fried eggs, fried ikan bilis (dried anchovies), and peanuts (if there’s some around), a dash light soy and lots of cucumber to cool my lips.
What was your favourite dish growing up?
Still is - Assam Laksa. It’s the dish I got my chilli wings with. I distinctly remember how much the spiciness was killing me but knowing it was like a culinary rite of passage and pushing through the pain, age 6.
Do you think Australians in general are very adventurous eaters?
Very. It never ceases to amaze me. They also have a history of being very tenacious cooks. It’s because we are a young country consisting of many migrant cultures, so everyone cross pollinates with ways of cooking and eating.
Do you think most Australians really have a grasp of what original Asian cooking is?
Not ‘original’ Asian cooking - I think they have a very homogenous view of Asian cooking in that they appreciate many types of Asian food but aren’t familiar with what ingredients and techniques create distinct flavour profiles from all the different Asian cuisines.
Recipe: Poh's prawn and pineapple curry
What is a classic Malaysian dish that any novice cook could make?
Nyonya Chicken Curry - you blend the rempah or spice paste, caramelise it with curry leaves, cinnamon, cloves and anise, add chicken, potatoes and coconut milk. Done.
Recipe: Poh's Nyonya fried rice
What’s your best kitchen tip for aspiring chefs?
Cook with common sense - with flavour and love, not to be clever. If you cook just to outdo the next guy, you will become a mere technician and lose the love for it.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?
Dried chillies because they are a brilliant pantry basic and add such a beautiful colour and smoky depth to the heat. I also love ginger - it goes in ALL my Chinese cooking and is my cure all nightcap; 3cm of bashed ginger boiled in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes – sometimes unbearably hot, but keeps the bugs at bay.
Do you have any predictions for the big food trends in 2013?
They’ve already arrived but there will be more of it......American style junkfood/dude food, food trucks, street food from any culture especially South East Asia. The most exciting one will of course be, Malaysian!
What’s next in your cooking career?
Well, I’m working on my second book and there are a few things that aren’t TV I’m vaguely exploring because I want to cook more. I don’t mind not knowing what’s next. I’ve always been open to what the universe might deliver and it always seems to look after me. I’m not a believer in chasing things down. There’s a reason why that phrase ‘blind ambition’ was coined. Taking things one step at a time means you have time to consider what your intent is and whether it’s really going to make you happy.