CELEBRITY chef Sherson Lian admits that he is not the academic type.
Although he has achieved celebrity status as a chef, he was not the product of a culinary school.
He attributes his career to his parents’ influence, and the fact that his mother ran a restaurant when he was young.
“I have never been to a culinary school,” says Kuala Lumpur-born Lian, 28.
“Cooking is about inspiration, taste and flavours. A lot of influence came from my mother who gave me the foundation.”
His mother (a Chinese Hokkien) ran a food business selling chap fan (“economy rice”). She is versatile in Chinese, Malay and Indian cookery but Chinese food is predominantly what she cooks.
At 11, Lian, the eldest, and his three younger siblings helped their mum peel garlic and onions.
“I hated it,” says Lian in an interview with Star2.
But it turned out to be a lesson in the basics of cooking. He and his siblings are now in the food business – sort of. His two brothers are involved in the family’s campground facility in Malacca, which has chalets (for accommodation) and catered food, while his sister Shearlee, a student, works part-time waiting tables at his restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
“Shearman, my second brother, is a self-taught interior designer-cum-contractor. He helps out at the campground. Daniel, my youngest brother, just finished his studies and is working in the kitchen,” he says.
When Lian was in school, he used to help at his mother’s restaurant during term breaks.
Being in the kitchen so often, Lian grew fond of “the atmosphere and team spirit” of the kitchen brigade.
“I decided to be in the food business because I love working with people and also to escape my studies,” says Lian, who quit school after completing his SPM.
“Taking up culinary courses, available only in private colleges, was very costly,” he says. And so, he looked for a better option and that was to work in the family’s restaurant. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I was serving food, cooking, making drinks or managing the restaurant. When chefs were not around, I had to cook and make drinks,” he recounts.
Lian also managed Paradise Cafe at Faber Towers, Old Klang Road, Kuala Lumpur, in 2003. A year later, he enrolled at Taylor’s College for a six-month hotel industry apprenticeship course, and spent his three-month work training at the JW Marriott, KL, where he worked in various kitchens.
When his father (an architect, who is half-Chinese and half-British) split with his business partner, Lian took over the management of Paradise Corner outlet in Sg Chua, Kajang. After about two years, the family sold the business.
In 2006, Lian and his family moved back to Malacca to operate the campground facility.
His most recent endeavour is Elegantology Gallery & Restaurant in Publika at Solaris Dutamas, KL. The outlet, a men’s boutique and restaurant, is a partnership with chef Johnny Fua, who appeared with Lian on the Asian Food Channel’s Great Dinners Of The World.
Last year, he set up Cookery Chemistry Solution “to handle anything to do with food – from restaurant, food consultancy and shows”.
Three years ago, someone from TV3 passed his telephone number to one of the station’s producers.
He started hosting the cooking show 5 Rencah 5 Rasa which became a hit and is now in its eighth season.
“It was nerve-racking at first but I realise that what matters is personality and cooking. I don’t have to pretend but be myself,” he says.
He made a name for himself with that series and has since appeared in other cooking shows. His forthcoming one is called Cipta Rasa Ramadan (on TV3 beginning July 3).
Lian is now also the brand ambassador for Dutch Lady Family Milk Powder, and has come out with two recipe booklets in Bahasa Malaysia entitled Cipta Rasa Berkhasiat Di Dapur Chef Sherson. Each booklet, with 14 recipes, comes free with the purchase of Dutch Lady Family Milk Powder during the promotional period of June and July.
At a recent demonstration, Lian showed how milk can be used in cooking and is a healthy substitute for coconut milk and cream. Some of his recipes for Dutch Lady are Sup Bayam Berkrim, Ikan Bakar Daun Pisang, Otak-Otak Istimewa, Puding Roti Coklat and Cendol Susu.
Lian’s personal tastes lean towards Asian food and he likes Cantonese fried noodles yin-yong style, Hokkien mee, rendang and sambal.
“Malaysians are spoilt with variety. So when you ask a Malaysian about his favourite foods, it is never just one dish,” he says, and goes on to add another, banana leaf rice, on his favourite food list.
A fussy eater, he hates “hot food that has turned cold”. It’s because “the taste has somewhat changed!”
“And I don’t eat spare parts,” he declares, referring to offal.
“There’s a barrier in my mind. How can anyone eat something like intestines (of animals)?”
Strangely, he doesn’t mind liver.
“My business partner makes a mean chicken liver paté,” he says.
Lian reckons that one needs to be fussy about food. “If you’re fussy enough, your food will turn out good.”
When eating out, he will send back food if it is not cooked right, even if it offends the chef.
“If the food is really bad, I would tell the chef nicely,” says Lian, who once sent back a duck confit because it was too dry. Another time, he returned a lamb dish because it was still “frozen lamb – raw and dry”.
As for favourite cooks, he adores British chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Jamie Oliver and finds him inspirational.
“I follow him a lot. I don’t have any of his cookbooks but I watch his shows on TV,” he says.
Little wonder then that Lian sounded like Oliver on his Food Revolution crusade when he (Lian) talked about a campaign to encourage mothers to cook at home more instead of dining out often or resorting to takeout food.
Lian’s philosophy is, “Everyone can cook!”
In terms of leisurely pursuits, Lian enjoys travelling, diving and music. He was a member of the six-piece band, Cross Fusion, formed four years ago, which played a mix of jazz, blues, pop and fusion music at private gigs, music festivals and corporate events. However, he has had to put music on hold due to his hectic work schedule.