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