Asia, is undoubtedly gifted when it comes to flavours and spices. We have an undying love for food and many of us share the same obsession with chillis! From Malaysia to India, there are many aspects of cooking that have travelled throughout the continent, leaving us today, with a somewhat similar palate to our fellow neighbours. In a recent candid conversation with Malaysian born Australian chef Diana Chan, we found that she believes the same too. Having won Master chef Australia in 2017, Diana has been moving up and onwards as an Asian-born chef in the International culinary world. From her journey as a Malaysian born Australian chef to how the competition shaped her future, here are all the details of our conversation with award-winning chef Diana Chan:
1. How important is it to understand the cuisine to enjoy the food?
It is extremely important to understand flavours and familiarise yourself with different ingredients used in different cuisines. I am very fortunate to be able to eat most things and have very little to no dietary requirements and that allows me to try everything. I also understand that everyone has a different palette hence why I think it is important to understand the landscape and demographic in which you are cooking for.
2. While creating new recipes, do you test them on your friends and your family?
Absolutely. I cook almost everyday apart from the days we eat out so my partner and my friends are always being my guinea pigs with all my crazy ideas. I think it's important to get others to test your cooking to ensure it lives up to expectations. I'm also glad that I have tried and tested these recipes commercially before so scaling the amount of food isn't an issue.
3. Did you grow up in a foodie family?
I did. Both my parents in fact the entire family are great cooks. Growing up in a household with an abundance of good food sure helps me understand flavours much better. I remembered as kid growing up all my aunts and grandaunts would be in the kitchen preparing delicious food and the good memories of enjoying good food with my loved ones.
4. Which foods from Malaysian cuisine do you want to get global recognition?
There are so many Malaysian dishes that are yet unknown but I think certain Malaysian dishes that highlight the different cultures in Malaysia could be a great representation of my heritage and culture. Maybe a few dishes each from the Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures and any subculture that falls under them.
5. Which Indian foods did you try on your last India trip, and which ones did you like?
I love love love all the Indian rotis. There's just so many to name. I discovered so many new ones which I had never tried before. I can't pick one!! In fact I think I loved different dishes from different regions as Indian food is just so vast and varies from city to city. On my last trip I did have an unbelievable Dal Makhani which blew my mind. I also had incredible Biryani from Hyderabad. Never had Biryani that good in my life. The list is endless to be honest. Haha..
6. Are there any similarities between Indian-style cooking and Malaysian cooking?
Yes there are lots actually in particular South Indian cuisine as there are lots of South Indians which migrated to Malaysian and Singapore in the 19th and early 20th century.
7. How did the Australian cooking competition win help shape your career in the food industry?
The competition gave me a platform to go and do bigger and better things in life and I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do to be perfectly honest. Being able to do a mix of jobs mostly relating around food is a dream come true for me. It has opened up a lot of doors and opportunity for me from creating a dumpling range which is stocked in all major supermarkets in Australia, hosting my own TV show, Asia Unplated, ambassador roles for many different brands and hosting events internationally.
8. What is the one recent viral recipe you couldn't resist trying?
Hmmm.. this is a funny one for me as day in day out I naturally do kitchen hacks and I am quite a purist/ traditionalist when it comes to cooking and I see cooking as a therapy and really enjoy so I don't generally do those short cuts when I'm at home as I love the process of cooking. Hope I don't offend anyone by saying the contrary.
9. Your cooking and recipes have inspired many across the world. Can you share a secret tip for all budding chefs and home cooks?
My advise would be to try everything. Try it at least once in your life and you can then make a call whether you like it or not. I also think if you are starting out cooking to just keep it simple. Not too many ingredients to begin with so you don't get overwhelmed when you're following a recipe. Start with the basics of cooking - cooking times, heat application and seasoning. Always taste your food during cooking. That is how you learn about how ingredients react when heat is applied.
10. What was your biggest takeaway from the Australian cooking competition experience? How is cooking for a reality show different from cooking in a restaurant?
Biggest takeaway is how much I have learned and grown since being in the competition. It has taken me several years to really find my style and identity in the food space. As I mentioned above, it gives you a platform but it is what you do with it that gives you the greatest achievements thereafter. Cooking on screen and in real life are two very different things. You're not so conscious when you're not in front of the camera and on the flipside, you don't have real customers judging your food either. Both equally daunting and exciting at the same time though.
11. Do you feel any difference in the way that the show now is different from when you won the show, i.e in 2017? For example, we have seen a lot of Indian cooks emerging on the show's Australian edition.
I think there is a huge difference across all Australian TV screens of late. There is more awareness about inclusivity and racial discrimination. There are people from all walks of life being given air time these days. The main difference is the push on social media. Many use that as a means to promote what they do and for publicity.
12. What do you feel about the future of the food and beverage industry? How will it evolve and what future trends will we see in the restaurant/dining space?
I think there is an increasing awareness of food waste so you will start to see if not already a big push to using ingredients that would normally go to waste in the main dishes. I am all for it to be honest. I also see a big change in the restaurant industry not just in the food they serve but the drinks. There is a big push for non-alcoholic beverages or swapping cocktails for mocktails and it's good to see that as we often forget that whilst there are many who drink there are also those who don't and why should they be made to feel left out.
13. Tell us about your experience while curating menu for Marriot on Wheels.
Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels is a unique offering to all customers giving them a chance to order my specially curated menu from all JW Marriott hotels and other resorts affiliated in India. The menu showcases 5 dishes which I have carefully selected and personally trained the in-house chefs to prepare. The process has been a breeze and I really enjoy working with the team from JW Marriott as well as Nikhil from All Things Nice. Launching a menu without being physically present can be daunting but having a strong team on the other end and good communication ensures we get a good end product for the customers to enjoy.
14. A cooking tip that changed your life.
Keep your butter in the freezer and then grate it for baking and pastries. It mixes into the flour easier and melts quicker. Storing your bean sprouts in water and in the fridge to prevent them from going brown.
15. The one invention in the food industry which needs to be around by 2050.
It is scary to think that there will be a scarcity of food with the increasing world population. I hope that there are inventions in place that will mitigate this issue. There needs to be strategies to produce more from less. There will be a rise in food cost. We have already been experiencing it. Think about how much your weekly spend was 10 years ago compared to now. People need to think of alternative food sources and maybe it is that we all eat less or eat what is available without throwing out good food. So much landfill is contributed by food waste.
16. Three things you would take with you to a deserted island? Could be kitchen tools, spices or any food.
I would take dried chilies or chili seeds to plant. I don't know how I would live without chilies in my life. Ordinarily I would say salt but I think there is a way we could use salt water and make salt from it so I'd just bring a large pot. I would also need a knife to hunt and to prepare food to survive.