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

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