From zero to culinary hero
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.