REJECTION can sometimes have a positive effect on our lives, and former Masterchef UK contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin is a true testament of this.
Who can forget the furore that erupted when the Kuantan-born cook, who now lives in Bristol, England, was eliminated from the show’s Season 14 last year because the chicken rendang she cooked for the judges was not “crispy”.
Indignant fellow Malaysians took to social media to express their solidarity with Zaleha.
While the episode sparked controversy among foodies worldwide, it drove Zaleha to produce a cookbook aptly titled My Rendang Isn’t Crispy.
The book containing 60 recipes was launched at W Kuala Lumpur, which hosted a two-night dinner at Flock featuring seven dishes from the book, including the Masterchef Non-Crispy Chicken Rendang.
The hotel’s culinary director Richard Millar and his team worked with Zaleha to come up with a specially curated menu comprising mostly her family recipes.
The dishes were Kerabu Daging (mildly spicy beef salad with shallots, lemongrass, dried shrimp and red chillies as well as local herbs), Mee Hoon Sup Berempah (Malay chicken soup with glass noodles and begedil), Ikan Masak Asam (deep-fried trevally in tamarind sauce), Udang Karang Tiga Rasa (sweet and sour lobster), Kacang Buncis Goreng Sos Tiram (stir-fried French beans with oyster sauce) and Nasi Minyak (fragrant ghee rice).
Before dinner was served, Zaleha and commis chef Nur Suhaimy Md Tahir demonstrated how to make the beef salad, which used shredded medium rare beef, shallots, lemongrass, cili padi, red chillies, tomatoes, coriander, kafir lime leaves and dried shrimp, and a simple dressing of lemon juice, garlic, salt and sugar and topped with toasted peanuts and coconut.
“I grew up eating this as my mother would prepare this for teatime after school and on Sundays.
“Instead of fish sauce in most beef salad recipes, I use dried shrimp,” said Zaleha.
Her cookbook, she added, also contained recipes from her hometown and for laksam, otak-otak and stuffed chillies from the east-coast states, and every Malaysian’s favourite – nasi lemak.
There are also various recipes for rendang from various states in the peninsula.
“In Pahang, our rendang is black because we use soy sauce, but in Negri Sembilan, it is yellow and very spicy. Rendang Tok hails from Perak.
“Different families have different rendang recipes, but it should not be crispy,” she said tongue-in-cheek.
Zaleha, who started cooking 20 years ago after moving overseas, had wanted to come up with a cookbook for a long time.
“But it was after Masterchef UK that I was approached by Marshall Cavendish in Singapore, who published my cookbook.”
Zaleha admitted she had an idea for a less cheeky title.
“But the publisher advised me to go ahead with My Rendang Isn’t Crispy since I was that ‘rendang lady’ from Masterchef,” she laughed.
Although Zaleha was disheartened after she was eliminated from Masterchef UK, she said what happened was a blessing.
“It brought me here and I’m thankful to everyone who helped me.”
To end the dinner on a high note, Millar elevated the regular fruit rojak into a work of culinary art with his Rojak Table Experience with Liquid Nitrogen Coconut Ice, a dessert perfect for sharing.
On a banana leaf, he spread peanut cream and peanut crumble for texture, followed by pineapple upside down cake for contrast. Next was young mango and chilli, rose apple (jambu air) and pickled papaya.
The surprise element was green guava in the form of panna cotta and mango ice shavings.
The piece de resistance was the theatrical element of the coconut cream, filled in a siphon and frozen in liquid nitrogen, which was cracked in the centre of the leaf.
Dehydrated jicama, rojak sauce and dusting of peanuts completed the look of the rojak.
The hotel’s Woobar is offering a uniquely Malaysian high-tea curated by Zaleha featuring nibbles like Non-Crispy Chicken Rendang Pie, Mini Scotch Egg with an Indian spicy twist, Coconut Profiteroles and Malaysian Mess, a medley of coconut meringue served with pineapple and mango cubes, mango puree, whipped cream and pomegranate.
The high-tea is available until July 30 and priced at RM188+ for two pax.
FLOCK, W Kuala Lumpur, No 121, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-2786 8888). Business hours: 6.30am to 10.30pm, daily. Pork-free.
This is the writer’s personal observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.