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Sunday January 9, 2011

Axian’s adventurous life

He may be one of Malaysia’s most popular food show hosts but Jason Yeoh, aka Axian, prefers to describe himself as a food lover. SundayMetro catches up with our own Anthony Bourdain to discover his thoughts and passion for Malaysian food.

IT is rare for someone who is constantly on the gastronomic trail to admit he is no food expert.

But Jason Yeoh, 37, who is better known as Axian, host of the hit food travelogue Axian’s Food Adventures, will readily admit it.

Preferring to call himself a food lover, Axian, who is also a TV programmer, says food is a subject “that I am passionate about.”

On the spot: Jason Yeoh, aka Axian, and his favourite camera. He strives to reveal the personalities behind various foods on his show Axian’s Food Adventures.

In a recent interview with Sunday Metro, this qualified electronics engineer says his mother, who once sold curry laksa in his hometown in Penang, inspired him with her determination to constantly improve the quality of her food.

Thus, when he was given the opportunity to produce a food show, he instantly knew he could come out with one that displays the warmth and beauty of the food instead of just focusing on its taste.

Besides hopping from stall to stall to sample and talk about food, Axian says he hopes to reveal the personalities behind the food and what drives them. He also makes it a point to study the cultures that have moulded these culinary delights.

This perhaps explains why his food programmes have been so successful. He not only engages his audience and subjects but also captures the story behind the food.

Over the last 10 years, Axian has been actively involved in producing and hosting TV shows such as Taste with Jason, Resort, and Journey with Jason. His other credits include Star Face2face, Stock Watch and Life File.

Since 2009, Taste with Jason has aired in more than 14 countries, including Korea, China, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Axian, however, remains modest about his achievements. When asked about the huge following on his blog (www.axian.my) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/axian.my), Axian replies that his followers are “not many, just a small group of friends sharing the same interest in food and travel.”

Born for the job: Axian says he would continue to be a show producer, researcher and scriptwriter.

His “small group” on Facebook actually comprises 77,000 friends while his blog attracts an average 300,000 page views a month!

“They are like a small family, giving me a lot of strength in life,” he quips.

Axian likes to tell the history of the food he introduces.

“Stories like how a particular food came about in Malaysia, the relationship between the food and its country of origin and the traditional way of preparing it – these are the factors I look out for. Thus, the search for good food is a matter of tracing our food heritage all around Malaysia and even outside the country,” he explains.

Knowing the history behind the food is important for Axian as he sees it as part of the living heritage of a country.

“A lot of effort goes into research and tracing the history,” he says. “Sometimes it can take my research team more than three months just to research a particular food. It may call for a lot of reading, capturing the speciality of our local food and comparing it with the country of origin to see the similarities and differences.

“We also rely on the locals to relate the history of their food. Indeed, it is like recording the oral history of the food.”

Citing his recent working trip to Laos as an example, Axian says he and his colleagues tried many types of laksa there which are quite similar to Penang laksa.

“If we had not made the trip, we might have ended up telling the audience that the Penang people were the ones who ‘invented’ laksa when it is very common in the region,” he explains.

So how did an engineering graduate end up in front of the small screen? Axian relates how he won a songwriting competition in 1995 while studying at University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas). He was interviewed by a local radio station in Sarawak and his voice impressed the station head, who offered him a job as a part-time radio deejay.

Upon graduating, Axian worked as a telecommunications network engineer for over a year but soon realised his real interest was in broadcasting. He had applied to join a radio station but somehow his resume was forwarded to the ntv7 station.

“I was called for an audition and hired as a broadcast journalist. After working six months there, Astro offered me a job as a presenter.”

Axian was later made a producer and then a senior content developer focusing on developing new shows for the station. In 2009, he branched out, setting up his own production house called Insane Sdn Bhd.

His engineering degree has not been put to waste.

“My engineering background has actually helped me a lot in dealing with my TV production work. With my technical knowledge, I can easily operate electronic shooting and editing equipment,” he says.

Axian is surprisingly trim, defying the perception that a food programme host must be overweight.

He says a food programme host or a food lover should never be mistaken for someone who eats without restraint.

“I enjoy good food but my love for food is not measured by the amount I eat,” he adds.

Axian drinks fresh fruit and vegetable juice twice a day, exercises three times a week and tries to sleep as early as 10.30pm daily.

“I eat a nutritious breakfast, enjoy a good lunch and avoid having a heavy dinner. I seldom take heavy meals after 8pm. I also love drinking fruit enzymes and prune juice to maintain my health,” he shares.

Despite his hectic travelling, Axian confesses that he still loves Penang best and visits the island at least once every two months.

“Penang is my only home. I simply love the slow pace of life, soothing sea breeze, old historical and colonial buildings, pre-war shophouses and the beauty of our street corners.

“Of course, there are the countless food stalls, celebrations and the friendly people. All in all, it’s the aura and warmth of the city that I love,” he adds.

Should he no longer be a food programme host, Axian says he would continue to be a show producer, researcher and scriptwriter.

“In fact, 90% of my daily routine now focuses on TV programme production – research, location survey, content development, editing, audio mixing and graphic development. While others know me better as a programme host, I have actually been working as a producer, researcher and scriptwriter for the past 11 years.”

Axian sees himself as a fulltime TV programme producer and regards hosting as just a part-time job.

“But what I love most is sitting on the couch in the evening with a mug of good coffee and the television remote control right in front of me,” says this self-confessed couch potato.

Axian’s Food Adventures is featured on Sunday at 9pm in Astro AEC. It is repeated on Sunday at 11pm, Tuesday at 10am and Friday at 11pm. A new series called Taste with Jason will be coming to Asian Food Channel in March.

Related Stories:
A matter of personal choice
Malaysian favourite

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