Il­lu­mi­nat­ing justin ng with his culi­nary acu­men, celebrity chef Sher­son Lian anatomises our en­gross­ment with Miche­lin stars – why we don’t need it as much as we yearn for it

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Celebrity chef Sher­son Lian anatomises our en­gross­ment with Miche­lin stars

“Where did the Per­anakan start? It started in Malaysia when the Chi­nese came to Malaysia, when the Por­tuguese came to Malaysia. Every­thing was through the Strait of Malacca,” Sher­son Lian says with con­vic­tion. The celebrity chef is en­thus­ing about Malaysia’s rich culi­nary her­itage whose roots lie faith­fully in our multi-cul­tural so­ci­ety. It is in our his­tory. Our di­verse cui­sine is a mi­cro­cosm of that, where we have eth­nic cuisines like the Chi­nese, the In­dian, the Malay, the Iban, the Kadazan, etc, and cre­ole and fu­sion cuisines which have ma­tured into boast­ing their own dis­tinct iden­ti­ties like the Per­anakan.

Food al­ways strikes a chord with Malaysians. Com­par­ing Malaysian food and those from across the Strait of Jo­hor per­pet­u­ally strikes a nerve. The con­ver­sa­tion started when I raised Sher­son the ques­tion: Do you think we should do it? It was in re­sponse to Sin­ga­pore Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong who wanted to nom­i­nate their hawker cul­ture for in­clu­sion in UNESCO’s Rep­re­sen­ta­tive List of the In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage of Hu­man­ity. “I think we should do it as well,” he says, with­out get­ting drawn into the ar­gu­ment of whether Sin­ga­pore’s hawker cul­ture is bona fide. How­ever, he points out Malaysian cui­sine is stronger in terms of iden­tity and if Sin­ga­pore is recog­nised for it, Malaysia de­serves a sim­i­lar recog­ni­tion.

Tak­ing place at the Pernod Ri­card Bar des Em­biez, Sher­son and his team cater to guests who have ar­rived to sam­ple his sea­sonal canapes de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with Martell and Chivas Re­gal. The brands have joined hands for the Re­ward the Cu­ri­ous Din­ner Se­ries, whereby top­spend­ing gourmets stand a chance to win a Mercedes-Benz E-Class or all-ex­pense-paid trips to the famed dis­til­leries. The col­lab­o­ra­tion en­tails his sig­na­ture canapes be served at par­tic­i­pat­ing restau­rants na­tion­wide.

Be­sides op­er­at­ing his own cater­ing ser­vice, Sher­son is en­grossed with his TV show Fam­ily Kitchen with Sher­son, whose co-host hap­pens to be his mum, and his own restau­rants,

in­clud­ing the An­glo-In­dian eatery Makhan by Kitchen Mafia. To be in­volved in so many en­deav­ours means hav­ing to make some sac­ri­fices, es­pe­cially fam­ily time. But re­cruit­ing and train­ing an ap­pren­tice to help ease his work­load has not crossed his mind.

“It (ap­pren­tice­ship) is very rare in this day and age, es­pe­cially with the In­ter­net and peo­ple out there do­ing dif­fer­ent things. That whole ex­pe­ri­ence is now the sifu (mas­ter) – it is not a par­tic­u­lar per­son any­more,” Sher­son says. “Back in the days when there was no In­ter­net and you only had a per­son above you, you tended to stick to one sifu.

I am not sure if ap­pren­tice­ship is still

rel­e­vant in this day and age

In this present time, younger chefs are learn­ing so much from the In­ter­net, with dif­fer­ent job ex­pe­ri­ences that they can hop around and learn dif­fer­ent things. I am not sure if ap­pren­tice­ship is still rel­e­vant in this day and age.”

It is the change of times and palate that drives the bur­geon­ing gas­tro­nomic scene in KL. “I have high re­gard for peo­ple like Dar­ren Teoh who runs De­wakan. He uses a lot of local in­gre­di­ents and turns them into fine din­ing. He gets a lot of dif­fer­ent chefs from over­seas to come in and be guest chefs,” Sher­son says. He cau­tions, how­ever, the pace of which we are grow­ing may not be fast enough due to eco­nomic rea­son as well as our ap­pre­ci­a­tion and un­der­stand­ing of food, in par­tic­u­lar local in­gre­di­ents which we may have taken for granted.

“If Dar­ren can turn kangkung (wa­ter spinach) into a RM50 dish, there are only a se­lected few who will un­der­stand the craft that has been put into the kangkung. Peo­ple still think kangkung comes from the drain and shouldn’t be more than RM3. But it is the craft that they put into the dish; it is the skills, ex­per­i­ments and time spent think­ing and de­vel­op­ing how they can turn kangkung into some­thing that wows,” he says.

Presently, Sin­ga­pore and Bangkok are in­cluded in the Miche­lin Guide. Does Sher­son think we need it in or­der to put our­selves in the same breath as the two fore­named cities as foodie havens – a val­i­da­tion of sort?

“I don’t know. I think we might want it. Do we need it? I think we need it for peo­ple like Dar­ren Teoh (De­wakan), Dar­ren Chin (DC Restau­rant). These guys put our local in­gre­di­ents at a cer­tain plat­form to ad­ver­tise to the world. Yes, we need it at that level. But other than that, I don’t think we need it. Malaysia is pro­moted as a (culi­nary) des­ti­na­tion. You can see peo­ple like Gor­don Ram­say have al­ready made a stop in Malaysia to dis­cover new in­gre­di­ents, flavours and cook­ing tech­niques. So I don’t think we need the Miche­lin Guide,” he says. “Our food speaks for it­self.”





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