Sweetness in simplicity
> Food is more than a business for Ili Sulaiman, who enjoys sharing her knowledge and passion for cooking
SHE has a warm smile to go with the food she loves. That was probably one of the reasons why Malaysianborn Ili Sulaiman was picked as one of the two Food Hero 2015 winners (the other Food Hero that year was Debbie Wong from Hong Kong).
Food Hero is an annual competition, now in its third year, organised by Scripps Networks Interactive to find new talents for Asian Food Channel (AFC) and Food Network.
Before Ili took part in the Food Hero competition, she was already running Dish by Ili, a food delivery service that delivers meals to homes in tiffin carriers.
She also recently opened her own restaurant Agak Agak in Kuala Lumpur, which serves Malaysian cuisine.
During an interview in Singapore just prior to the announcement of the new Food Hero for 2016 – the title went to the Philippines’ Anton Amoncio – Ili explained her motivation for taking part in the competition.
“I didn’t want to be a celebrity. I just want to share what I know and that is why I took part,” she said.
Since her Food Hero win, Ili has hosted several shows for AFC called Family Feast with Ili and also the AFC webseries Home Cooked Malaysia.
“I have been a part of the Scripps family for a year now,” she said. “A lot has changed for me. [I have learnt a lot about] producing shows and developing recipes. I now have a new show, By the Sea with Ili, that is coming out [this month].”
By the Sea with Ili is her first original series for AFC. She will be visiting beaches in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia in Terengganu over six episodes.
Aside from the usual scenes of cooking and exploring recipes, the show will also feature Ili showing off a more casual side, and audiences will be able to join her as she enjoys herself by the sea.
“I will be swimming, digging for clams, go octopus hunting, looking for sea urchins, [and more].
“I am learning more about myself as a cook.”
Incidentally, her food delivery business is still in operation. Winning the Food Hero title gave Ili a boost of confidence and while she says she would have opened her restaurant eventually, her current position helped her do it sooner.
“As a food entrepreneur, I have developed tremendously, and being a Food Hero [has also] helped me a lot.”
Ili, however, does not see herself as a celebrity, but finds it humbling that people do recognise her from the show.
“I learned to cook from my mum and my maternal grandmother,” she said. “I was the only child and I never had that opportunity to share.
“I had friends who were struggling to put an omelette together and I couldn’t understand why. They were basically never exposed to the kitchen.
“That’s why in my shows, I cook simple wholesome food that you can put together easily. I wanted to share that.
“Everyone should go into the kitchen and make a simple meal and share that. So that was my theme, and still is.”
Ili actually studied business in Queen Mary University of London. While in London, her only way to connect to home was to cook food that her mother sent the recipes over.
Due to her multi-ethnic background, she enjoyed a wide variety of foods growing up.
Ili is of Malay, Chinese, English and Sri Lankan Tamil descent, and has no doubt that her rich and colourful heritage has influenced her style of cooking.
“I developed different palates and understand how to use different ingredients to make things simpler,” she said.
For By the Sea With Ili, she learned some brand new cooking techniques from
By the Sea with Ili