It is obvious to anyone with eyes that Aaron Chen and Yang Lee Keong are very, very close. The two constantly tease each other, with the boisterous Yang often proudly proclaiming that he is the better cook and the more docile Chen admitting that his friend is yes, better than him in some respects.
The duo are the newly minted hosts of the equally newly minted, first ever local TLC programme 2 Dudes & A Kitchen.
It’s a slightly unusual premise, getting two regular guys to host a cooking show. Most cooking shows are helmed by professional chefs, celebrity chefs or former winners/contestants of reality television series. To put two untested regular joes – Chen is a recruiter and Yang works in his family’s property and retail business – on television is akin to deliberately placing a child in a lion’s den. The outcome is one that no one can predict, and the possibilities are both endless and potentially scary.
Yang admits to as much and says: “To have a cooking show is like a dream. You watch a lot of cooking shows and you never think, ‘Hey, that could be me!’ But here we are, so it’s a very surreal experience!”
The friends met about eight years ago, and developed a rock-solid bond bolstered by their love of cooking and food. They experimented a lot in Chen’s kitchen and talked constantly (and wishfully) about having their own TV show.
By a serendipitous stroke of luck, they knew someone in a production company who thought putting the two of them together on a cooking show was a good idea. Then they were picked up by Discovery Networks Asia and the rest, as they say, is history.
The show’s main focus is on easy recipes that can be completed in 10 steps or less. While this is an admirable route that will no doubt find fans in today’s modern world where “I’m busy” is a common lament, taking culinary shortcuts can be tricky in itself.
While most home cooks appreciate the easiest possible options, there are a growing number of self-taught Google cooks who prefer to do things from scratch and purists who scoff at anything with the words “store-bought”.
In fact, chefs who’ve gone down the path of ease over technique have sometimes had to take some flak themselves. Who can forget Anthony Bourdain’s choice words for Rachael Ray when she endorsed buying pre-chopped onions in 2007? His exact words were “I mean, how hard is it to chop an onion?”
Chen and Yang are taking this aspect of the show in stride and maintain that their main goal is to get culinary-averse everyday folk to brave the depths of their kitchens without feeling like technical complexities are getting in the way.
“We want people who’ve never been in the kitchen to want to be in the kitchen. Our target market is not the professional chef; we’re not going after the chefs. We want everyday people who have limited exposure in the kitchen – to break down those barriers and get them to spend more time in the kitchen. That’s our goal, so we have everything in 10 steps or less. So we cut out whatever’s unnecessary. It might make the dish better to have more steps but it’s not crucial to making it good,” said Yang.
Chen talks about a specific incident on the show that highlights how they are not professional chefs and don’t do the things professional chefs do, opting instead to save time where possible.
“There’s one part where we’re making apple turnovers and the apple insides are very, very hot. Normally, you would leave it for an hour or two to cool but we actually stick it in the freezer. And we actually say, ‘Look, professional chefs would never do this, but we’re not professional chefs’,” he said.
Because the boys are not professional chefs, they gamely admit that they make plenty of mistakes on the show. Instead of editing this out though, they’ve left their literal dirty laundry out to hang, letting viewers in on their culinary weak spots and vulnerabilities.
So you’ll be able to see pots overflowing, soy milk leaking onto kitchen counters and apparently a couple of instances when the guys forgot to even turn on the fire!
“We’re regular guys and almost all our viewers are regular people, so they’re gonna make mistakes too and it’s about showing them you don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be trained to make really good stuff in the kitchen,” said Chen.
Each episode is also coordinated according to an occasion, so meals are prepared for possible real-life situations like a date meal, football nights with the guys and meals to impress the in-laws. According to Chen, this most accurately mirrors the various events that push people to cook in the first place.
“We wanted to think about the best way that people would learn how to cook. It’s usually around events, right? So every episode is structured around that and what’s the best thing to cook for that event,” he said.
Although the boys are born-and-bred Malaysians, the recipes on the show – which they devised while on holiday – are largely Western, with a sprinkling of Asian thrown in for good measure.
Yang alludes to their Western cuisine predilection and says while they do a fair amount of potato bakes, beef stews and pastas, they also have Asian recipes, but the difference is these recipes tend to be tweaked for modern users who may not have the time to grind and blend various spices and herbs to make curries or pastes. “I think what we do when we show Asian recipes on our show is we try and show shortcuts. I think people our age don’t have the time to grind 30 spices to make a rempah paste.”
So for example, on our Asian menu, we made a Peking duck but instead of using normal Peking duck wrappers, we actually used pratha. And Peking duck, if you think about it, is very time-consuming, whereas we use duck breast and are done in 20 minutes,” he said.
Ultimately, what will probably propel the show forward – aside from the sheer simplicity of the recipes – is the chemistry between Yang and Chen. “There’s a lot of banter throughout the show, so it’s not just a cooking show. It’s not like some professional chef showing you how to make something after having like 10 years of culinary experience. It’s just two dudes having fun in the kitchen, showing you how to cook simple food and trying to inspire you to come into the kitchen,” said Chen.
Asked if they ever think about how the show could turn them into the sort of celebrities that Sherson Lian and Johnny Fua have become since the success of their own TV shows, the boys remain pragmatic and humble.
“We want to remember that the reason we did this show was to get people to enjoy cooking and food as much as we do. And if it turns out that we do become famous or celebrities, we’re gonna take it in stride and make sure that at the end of the day, we’re here to promote food; not ourselves,” said Yang.
2 Dudes & A Kitchen airs on Mondays at 9pm on TLC (Astro Channel 707).
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