From zero to culi­nary hero

New Straits Times - - Groove - Den­nis Chua dchua@nst.com.my

SHE could hardly cook when she ar­rived in the United King­dom seven years ago, but af­ter read­ing recipes and watch­ing cook­ing videos, Michelle Yong has gone on to emerge vic­to­ri­ous in Gor­don Ram­say’s newest cook­ery com­pe­ti­tion.

On May 2, Yong be­came the talk of town when she whipped up a dish to win the 12th episode of Mas­ter Chef Ram­say’s com­pet­i­tive culi­nary show, Culi­nary Genius, on the ITV net­work.

She cooked Sweet Sour King Prawns, a Michelle Yong (left) with Vick­ery and host Fern Brit­ton (right). recipe in­spired by her grand­mother, which con­tains king prawns topped with fluffy egg floss soaked in a tangy tomato sauce made of egg, pep­per and soya sauce.

The show’s judge, Miche­lin-starred celebrity chef Phil Vick­ery, de­scribed her dish as “ab­so­lutely de­li­cious”.

“As a kid, all I thought of was eat­ing my late grand­mother’s meals. I thought every­thing she did in the kitchen was magic,” said Yong in a re­cent in­ter­view.

The 27-year-old data an­a­lyst from Ka­jang, Se­lan­gor ad­mits that while Culi­nary Genius was her first ma­jor com­pe­ti­tion, she en­tered a team com­pe­ti­tion dur­ing her school days in Seko­lah Me­nen­gah Ke­bangsaan Con­vent Ka­jang when she was 14.

“I did not do any cook­ing! My team­mate did most of the work. It was sam­bal bela­can fried rice which won third place.”

Yong ad­mits Culi­nary Genius was chal­leng­ing but fun.

“The time limit put the most pres­sure on me. But over the years I’ve learnt to stay calm and fo­cused and this def­i­nitely helped!” Yong lets on that if she likes a par­tic­u­lar dish, re­gard­less of place of ori­gin, she will learn to make it from scratch.

“I like cook­ing Chi­nese and Malay dishes the most, with my favourites be­ing sam­bal bela­can kangkung, which my mother makes, and daun pu­cuk ubi masak­le­mak.”

De­scrib­ing Ram­say’s cook­ery shows as “al­ways en­ter­tain­ing”, Yong dreams of be­com­ing a mas­ter chef one­day.

“The most im­por­tant step to cre­ate a win­ning dish is that it must come from the heart. When you put care into the cook­ing, this will show in the taste and look of your food.”

Yong, the el­dest of three sib­lings, said her win has been a pleas­ant sur­prise for her fam­ily in Malaysia, since all she could cook be­fore mov­ing to the UK was in­stant noo­dles.

“A lot of Chi­nese food I make now comes from my mem­ory of how it tasted when my grand­mother cooked for the fam­ily. I don’t re­mem­ber the names of the dishes but I re­mem­ber the taste, de­scrip­tions and ingredients.

“My mother is al­ways my big­gest fan and she’s very proud that my cook­ing has

Michelle Yong’s win­ning dish.

im­proved by leaps and bounds. I’m al­ways happy to cook meals for her when­ever I’m home, to show her what I’ve learnt.”

Each hour-long episode of Culi­nary Genius, which started on April 23, sees nine am­a­teur cooks head into a wrestling ringstyle stu­dio to do culi­nary bat­tle, with one win­ner for each week.

In the 20-episode se­ries, the con­tes­tants are given spec­i­fied ingredients and must cook their dishes in 25 min­utes.

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