Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jackie M, my Malaysian Idol

Jackie M, I started following this lovely lady and got to know her better through Twitter. We became friends immediately, must be a Convent school thing, just kidding! Actually, Jackie is very friendly and approachable, so down to earth. Of course, I was in awe of her, she was the celebrity chef, the Malaysian kid that made good, owning her own restaurant and well known in Sydney for her Malaysian cuisine.

So when she tweeted to me, "come up to Sydney", I literally jumped at the chance. I won't mention the skipping bit but off I went up to Sydney to help her out on the Good Food Wine Show. Jackie M was in the Malaysian Kitchen showcase. It was an awesome experience! I saw Adam Liaw, got kissed by Alvin Quah on the cheek. I didn't wash my face that night. I got to meet some food bloggers and other chefs, that was quite some time ago now.

It was pretty depressing to return to Wagga after a great event like that. Then, I realised I could buy Malaysian products from Jackie's Online Store It was like hitting the jackpot. It was a dream come true, she was going to be my supplier for Malaysian foods! So shiok man!!! It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

So, it was only natural that I would help celebrate the launch of her mini cookbook with a give-away. I decided that the best way for my readers to get to know more about Jackie M is through a very quick interview. 

Jackie has also kindly offered to give-away a mini cook book and a private cooking lesson prize to one of my very lucky reader. The Winner will be emailed details to contact Jackie M for the private lesson. You can bring your partner, friend or your spouse. Good luck everyone.

The prize is a private 2 1/2-hour cooking lesson for two person at her Darlinghurst studio valued at $500 and copy of her mini cookbook.

My Interview with Jackie M

You came from an IT background, what made you start cooking?

I started cooking because back when I first arrived in Sydney in 1984, apart from The Malaya and Lee’s Malaysian, there were very limited options where good Malaysian food was concerned. Much, presumably, like Wagga Wagga today :P

Then when the Y2K crash DIDN’T happen, IT contracts started to dry up and I figured it was a good time for a sea-change; I took the plunge, gave up my IT career, and never looked back.

What’s life like after leaving the restaurant business? Are you busier? Less busy?

Oh my goodness; I’ve been frantically busy since I quit the restaurant scene, but am hoping to streamline my activities as of, well, this week.

Everything came together very quickly – I had been trying to juggle looking after Noah full-time and in the process, had tried to delegate probably too much to staff where the business was concerned. In the process, I got some negative feedback online about my restaurant and I hit back via my personal blog (letter-to-my-customers)– one day after that, two guys walked in and made me an offer I couldn't refuse, for my Concord location.

Then I had to quickly find a new location and ended up in Darlinghurst where I’ve been since June; I saw the possibilities it offered and tried a few different things. I’ve hit something of a roadblock with Sydney City Council, however, but that could, in fact, be a good thing – it’s forced me to sit down and think about how to make the best use of my time.

Until this latest “setback” I had been fitting out my new studio, running around doing lunchtime deliveries myself with Noah in tow, along with all my other tasks – grocery shopping, managing my commercial kitchen facilities in Chatswood, running markets, putting out a cookbook, running cooking masterclasses and workshops, doing internet broadcasts 3 times a week, filming cooking videos, attending corporate meetings, working on several other “special projects” – you name it.

You’re a very shrewd business woman. You are now doing social media hangouts, master classes and workshops, giving away cooking secrets. Does that worry you at all?

No, not really; when I first started my Master classes I put out a mock press release on my food blog – jackiemsydney.wordpress.com - titled “MalaysianRestaurateur Tries to Put Herself Out of Business by Sharing All Her CookingSecrets” – I’ve never made secret of the fact that I was the world’s most reluctant restaurateur even when my restaurant was trading – I used to only open a grand total of 15 hours a week – running a restaurant is a huge undertaking at the best of times and I admire those who can do it.

From a big picture perspective, I see it as my mission to help preserve Malaysia’s culinary heritage by learning and disseminating recipes to the dishes that make it one of the world’s great cuisines.

My parents come from a street food background so I completely sympathise with street food vendors who jealously guard their trade secrets – it is their livelihood after all – but in the process, what has happened over the years is an erosion of knowledge. These traders, in building better lives for their kids, have no-one to whom to pass on their mantle (there is no glory in being a street food vendor – my parents’ dream was that their kids would do well enough at school to afford better careers) and ultimately these recipes and cooking secrets are lost forever. That’s why I’m always seeking out recipes, testing them out and learning new techniques where Malaysian food is concerned, and making them accessible via my many projects.

You have had a lot of exposure lately with Morning TV shows, and local social media and newspapers and even overseas, they are all after you. What’s next for Jackie M? Will we get a cooking show next?

Haha, I guess you’ll have to wait and see J I actually filmed 5 episodes of a long-running Malaysian TV series earlier this year – Seekers Season 9, airing September 2013 – not a cooking show however, but a paranormal-investigative one. Kind of random, I know, but it’s one of my other “interests”.

What’s in your shopping basket right now? What is the key must have ingredients for a Malaysian kitchen?

I like my seafood but I’m also pretty cheap so you’d often find me with whatever are the cheapest varieties of fish/shellfish in their categories at my local seafood shop – banana prawns, frozen oysters, blue swimmer crabs, salmon off-cuts etc. Or poultry or beef bones, for making soup bases with.

Key must-have ingredients are always tricky; if you watch my cooking videos on YouTube, you’d find me espousing the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Silly – garlic, onion, lemongrass, ginger along with packet curry mixes and chicken stock granules; the rest are dictated by what your upbringing or personal preferences are – if you like Chinese-influenced dishes, stock up on oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce (I know, I know); if you like Malaysian-Indian, you’d keep stuff like asafoetida, various spices – garam masala, turmeric, cumin, fennel, coriander etc.; if you like Malay you’d have the spices along with kicap manis, coconut milk, pandan leaves etc.

Where do you get your ingredients from? Was it hard to source ingredients? I know for myself in country NSW, it’s downright impossible, so I resort to readymade sauces and paste when I cook at home.

I get most of my ingredients from Flemington and Cabramatta here in Sydney. I also now carry a number of Malaysian products myself, like the Mak Siti and Faiza range of spice mixes, and Carotino Red Palm Oil. I always tell people if they want to shop for Malaysian recipes, to look for ingredients made in Malaysia, and failing that, its neighbouring countries because of the similarities and crossovers. (Not always completely reliable since eg. Malaysian palm sugar is a completely different animal to Thai palm sugar). This advice would also imply some knowledge of Southeast Asian geography, of course :P

I understand that you have a book launch recently. I bought one for myself. What advice would you give someone, for cooking a Malaysian meal at home?

I would advise them to use the “Agak-Agak Principle” – which in Malay means “guesstimate”, sort of. Don’t try to use exact measures, but adjust everything to taste. Cooking Malaysian food isn’t like baking macarons – some kuihs (Malaysian sweet snacks) for instance have recipes containing completely different base ingredients and yet they end up with the same textures and taste.

There are no hard and fast rules; don’t be afraid to increase an ingredient TEN-fold if you think achieving the right flavour calls for it – I’ve done that myself lots of times.

Do you ever eat out at Malaysian restaurants here in Australia? What do you think of the current food trend in Australia? Do you think Malaysian food is still popular in Australia?

I rarely eat out at Malaysian restaurants – I have a world of respect for my fellow Malaysian restaurateurs but after spending a full day cooking Malaysian food, the last thing I want to do, frankly, is to pay money to eat someone else’s take on it. It’s a different thing when I’m travelling in Malaysia, when all I want to do is eat Malaysian.

Current food trend? You assume I eat out all the time, lol. I like food to be special if I have to pay for it, so I’m less inclined to buy a fancy burger because a well-regarded chef’s name is attached to it; I’d want something pretty full-on that I can’t prepare myself – eg. French or Japanese food or high-end Chinese dining etc. That’s not an indictment on the current food scene; it’s just my own personal preference.

You bet Malaysian food is still popular in Australia; 10 years ago you’d find restaurateurs straddling the fence by describing their menu as Thai-Malaysian or Chinese-Malaysian or whatever-else-Malaysian to try and attract a broader base of customers; nowadays the reverse is true; “chefs” can’t wait to self-identify as Malaysian even when their Malaysian credentials are tenuous :P

CREDITS: Photos are courtesy of Catherine Feng, Ian and Cindy Chow and Craig and Caroline Hind on behalf of Jackie M. 


So here comes the contest part; in the tradition of #JackieMPoem with food pun intended because we both think it was great for laughs.

1st line must be Roses are red.

Lines 2 and 4 to rhyme.

Line 4 a Malaysian dish.

Poem must not make sense.

This comp will run for two weeks. We will choose the winner on Friday, Merdeka Day, 31.08.13.

Please hashtag #JackieMPoem so I can find your entries on Twitter,  Facebook,  G+, Instagram etc

Lastly, I must thank our Sponsor, JackieM for her generousity, her time and her friendship and wishing her the best in her undertakings. 


Ramen Raff said...

Love Jackie's Pad Thai lol Just kidding Jackie!! Jackie's the best. her Laksa and CKT rockz! Ps. That guy with the red shirt in the 4th photo looks familiar hahaha

Jackie Brodin said...

Raff, Jack's will skin you for that Pad Thai joke.... bahahhahahaha... yup, I saw that pic and said that's the macaron man ;)

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