He is Bourdain's dream wok-mate
MALAYSIAN Chua Guan Leong got the thumbs up for his sambal prawns and a place in the final 12 on British food show The Taste, along with his most memorable moment on the show: Anthony Bourdain asking - nay, imploring - him to work with him because "together we will make music".
It took Bourdain, one of the mentors on the cooking competition (think of it as a cross between MasterChef and The Voice), just a spoonful of Chua's dish to persuade him to join his team.
"We were born to work together... I implore you, come with me."
Chua, 27, has lived in Britain for 12 years. His dream job was the one the multi-hyphenate Bourdain had: a professional eater and drinker whose work allowed him to travel the world. In real life, Chua worked at Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst.
But his interest in food was strong. He started a food blog called The Boy Who Ate The World and tried to retrace the food trails in London and Europe that he had seen Bourdain go on in his TV show, No Reservations.
But after five years at the investment firm, he decided to resign and, in January last year, he enrolled for nine months of culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu London - to the chagrin of his mum.
"Eventually, the Tiger mother was convinced. Not that she had much of a choice anyway - she wasn't paying my school fees any more," Chua said.
The Cordon Bleu course focused on the fundamentals of French cuisine and European fine-dining techniques, which helped him hone his cooking skills and culinary knowledge.
"My Malaysian food started to taste better. Adding shellfish stock made from prawn heads to Sambal Udang completely transforms the rempah. Browning chicken to develop some caramelisation on the skin produces a far tastier Curry Kapitan. I also found that a Le Creuset cast-iron pot makes for a far better tau eu bak (braised pork belly in soya sauce)."
Armed with his newly acquired know-how, Chua auditioned for The Taste and won a place in the last 12. Bourdain became his mentor. He was one of the final six, but bowed out then.
On his celebrity mentor, Chua said: "Anthony Bourdain is really as witty and articulate in real life as he comes across on TV...
"But what impressed me most of all was his remarkable food knowledge. This is a man who could pinpoint the Malaysian Nonya roots in my sambal prawn dish without knowing who had cooked the dish.
"He coached me through the finer points of making everything, from a Mexican mole sauce to a Thai som tam salad, and is as well versed in Asian food as he is in European cuisine."
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK