REACHING FOR THE STARS
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
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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