Nik’s knacks

Celebrity chef Nik Michael Imran is all grown up, but still learn­ing valu­able life lessons from his dad.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By ABI­RAMI DU­RAI star2@ thes­tar. com. my

WHEN celebrity chef Nik Michael Imran in­tro­duces him­self, I feel my heart do a treach­er­ous lit­tle lurch. Up close, his famed good looks are breath- tak­ing. The ca­su­ally mussed hair, chis­elled nose, and bright imp­ish eyes all come to­gether in per­fect har­mony – there’s not a fea­ture out of place on that face.

“I don’t think I’m that hand­some,” says Nik Michael non­cha­lantly, break­ing into a killer smile. We’re dis­cussing the com­mon pub­lic per­cep­tion that his good looks have helped ad­vance his ca­reer, a sub­ject which he ve­he­mently pooh- poohs.

“I would say that it helps me for TV. But to say that my looks have helped me with my food, that’s rub­bish. How is that pos­si­ble?” he says, laugh­ing at the ab­sur­dity of that ten­u­ous con­nec­tion.

His father Datuk Nik Ezar, 58, is sit­ting next to him, flick­ing through some pic­tures on his iPad. He looks up in­ter­mit­tently to in­ter­ject and of­fer opin­ions. In this in­stance, he of­fers th­ese sage words of wis­dom. “You know, the world is kind to the rich and the beau­ti­ful,” he says, turn­ing mean­ing­fully to his son.

Nik Michael bursts into laugh­ter and Nik Ezar looks on fondly at his golden boy. It is a touch­ing tableu, one made all the sweeter by the close re­la­tion­ship the two share, a bond that has stayed strong through­out the years.

Nik Michael was less than two years old when his par­ents split up. While his Aus­tralian mum stayed on in her home­land, Nik Ezar brought his Bris­bane- born son back to Malaysia with him and al­most sin­gle­hand­edly brought him up.

“I felt like I had a very nat­u­ral child­hood, mother- miss­ing was not an is­sue for me,” says Nik Michael, who turns 27 in Septem­ber.

“I didn’t recog­nise it as ‘ Oh, I don’t have my mum.’ I had my dad, so what?” adds Nik Michael, who looks at his “daddy” of­ten dur­ing the in­ter­view.

Al­though Nik Michael in­te­grated well to Malaysian life, there was some tur­bu­lence when his dad switched him from an in­ter­na­tional school to a govern­ment school – St John’s In­sti­tu­tion – be­cause he didn’t want him to be­come an “ar­ro­gant, rot­ten boy”.

“I hated it! I hated go­ing to St Johns. I was cry­ing for the first two weeks!” he con­firms. To as­suage ( read: bribe) his son, Nik Ezar took a hi­lar­i­ous course of ac­tion.

“He said his class was so hot, so I ac­tu­ally bought and do­nated two air- con­di­tion­ers di­tion­ers to his school. One went to the teach­ers’ room, so that the teach­ers would al­low me to put the other one in his class­room,” re­calls the Ipo­hborn Nik Ezar with a laugh.

Nik Michael’s class ended up be­ing the only one in the en­tire school with air- con­di­tion­ing, but that hap­pi­ness proved short- lived when he quickly re­alised that be­ing hot was the least of his wor­ries.

At his new school, he was con­sid­ered a bit of an out­sider be­cause of his mixed parent­age. While he had some good friends, there were also kids who picked on him be­cause he was dif­fer­ent, in­clud­ing a boy who tried to stab him with a sharp ob­ject on a school bus!

“Yeah, I have the scar here,” he say, point­ing at a faint line on his el­bow. “He wanted to stab me in the chest, but I blocked it, so it got my el­bow,” adds Nik Michael mat­terof- factly.

The mat­ter nearly be­came a po­lice case but Nik Ezar de­cided to let the other kid off with a stern warn­ing.

Thank­fully, Nik Michael’s school life wasn’t com­pletely marred by that in­ci­dent. In fact, when he was 15, he met some­one who would prove to be very im­por­tant in his life: his first girl­friend and fu­ture wife Na­diah Shahril. Al­though the two first broke up af­ter Na­diah left to study over­seas, they re­con­nected eight years later over coffee.

Nik Michael took his re­la­tion­ship with Na­diah very se­ri­ously and only con­tem­plated mar­riage when he was cer­tain di­vorce would never be a part of the equa­tion.

“I’ve built my re­la­tion­ship and my de­ci­sions in such a way that di­vorce is out of the ques­tion. I think grow­ing up with a sin­gle father and see­ing a re­la­tion­ship break up as a young kid – proves to you that words don’t mat­ter. Ac­tions do. So based on his ac­tions, I’ve learnt what not to do,” muses Nik Michael.

“Learn from my mis­takes,” agrees his father. As Nik Michael smiles warmly back at his dad, you can’t help but feel

that he has spent his whole life

I grew up with dad's cook­ing, so that's ba­si­cally the cat­a­lyst Nik Michael Imran

learn­ing from the man who raised him.

In fact, it was his father who ig­nited his pas­sion for cook­ing in the first place. “Ev­ery­one grows up with mum’s cook­ing. I grew up with dad’s cook­ing, so that’s ba­si­cally the cat­a­lyst. He would of­ten cook – a lot,” he re­calls.

Nik Ezar also en­ter­tained a lot and re­cruited Nik Michael to help him, first as a waiter and then when he turned nine, to pre­pare desserts for his friends! “Neat trick, right?” says Nik Ezar with a grin, to which Nik Michael re­sponds, “You mean child labour!”

Even though both Niks en­joy cook­ing, Nik Ezar was taken aback when Nik Michael an­nounced his in­ten­tion to join MasterChef Malaysia.

At the time, the younger Nik was about to com­plete his de­gree in fi­nance and the older Nik had al­ready bagged him a job as a stock­bro­ker, ne­go­ti­at­ing a pack­age that in­cluded RM50,000 in bonuses ev­ery three months!

Ac­cord­ing to Nik Michael, his father took some time to warm to the idea, but even­tu­ally came around. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Nik Michael’s ca­reer took off and a beloved celebrity chef was born. In fact, Nik Ezar even got in on the ac­tion when the two opened a restau­rant to­gether – Pick­Nik. Al­though they have re­cently de­cided to sus­pend op­er­a­tions on the restau­rant, they still have a cater­ing busi­ness to run and are also plan­ning to mar­ket their pasta sauce.

But per­haps the big­gest pro­ject they are em­bark­ing on next is their first cook­ing show to­gether, where they will teach celebri­ties how to make dishes.

“I think that par­tic­u­lar show has given us the av­enue to be our­selves. So in most of the footage, you will see the real, gen­uine dy­nam­ics be­tween father and son. I think that is the ‘ It’ fac­tor of the show,” says Nik Ezar.

Nik Michael is also busy with the film­ing

Kuih Raya Nik of an­other tele­vi­sion show,


which will re­flect the nascent start of a long- held dream of his to cre­ate a proper repos­i­tory of Malaysian food.

“I’m go­ing to travel around Malaysia and find the best kuih made here. I want to learn more about our lo­cal cui­sine and record it, so it will get peo­ple to stop say­ing ‘ No, this is how you do it!’” he says.

Al­though talk of his ca­reer is riv­et­ing, it’s hard for yours truly to hold back on ask­ing the age- old nosy ques­tion, “When are you go­ing to have kids?” In this in­stance, Nik Michael is quick to re­spond that he isn’t in any rush. Quite the op­po­site, in fact.

“I don’t want to fall into the trap of get­ting mar­ried and im­me­di­ately hav­ing kids. I fi­nally have a wife now so I want to fo­cus on that and en­joy mo­ments like trav­el­ling the world and hav­ing new ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether with­out hav­ing a kid around,” he says.

What Nik Michael is itch­ing to do, how­ever, is be­come his own man.

While Nik Ezar has been in the back­ground of his son’s pro­fes­sional ca­reer, guid- ing and help­ing him with the fi­nan­cial aspects of things, he wants to re­tire soon. But he has faith in Nik Michael.

“He’s a mar­ried man. He has to find a way to feed his chil­dren. But I’m sure he’ll fig­ure it out, he is very smart,” says Nik Ezar.

And af­ter nearly two hours into our in­ter­view, Nik Michael turns to me and says with a big smile, “Aww, he com­pli­mented me! It only took two hours to do that!”


ik M hares a rong bond

h his father atuk nik Ezar.

Al­though the duo are sus­pend­ing op­er­a­tions at their restau­rant Pick­nik, they will still run their cater­ing busi­ness so you can ex­pect to see them cook­ing to­gether for a while yet.

— Pho­tos: YAP CHEE HONG/ The Star

nik Michael’s pas­sion for food was in­spired by his father, who was ef­fec­tively the fam­ily cook. By the time nik Michael was nine, he was even whip­ping up desserts for his dad’s friends!

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