When it comes to uniting Asians, or Malaysians specifically, the cause might come as a surprise to you. In this case, we’re talking about rendang.
If you happen to be living under a rock for the last couple of months, you have missed out on quite a lot of news. One of the most viral of them all was, what we Malaysians like to call, the Rendang Crispy Fiasco. We don’t want to go into the details of this dark episode so if you want to know more, just ask Mr. Google.
We are going to give you 10 minutes to do your research. Your time starts now!
Know the Lady Behind the Rendang Scandal
Time’s up! Now you have enough knowledge about the whole incident and hopefully have your interest piqued regarding the lady that managed to do the impossible; uniting us as a nation as well as with our neighbours, Singapore and Indonesia.
So, who is Ms. Zaleha Kadir Olpin, Malaysian-born contestant of Masterchef UK Season 14?
Allow us to paint you a picture. We had the chance to chat with her and at the core, she is a Malaysian through and through.
You would never guess that Zaleha was like any other Malaysian when it comes to cooking. Before moving to Australia in 2003, our rendang lady rarely cooked. Why would she, when food in Malaysia can be found aplenty anywhere and at any time.
A true blue Curry Laksa lover, Zaleha only realised how blessed she was after moving to Australia. In the land Down Under, she struggled to find her favourite meal or any of her beloved Malaysian dishes for that matter. So, what did she do? She rolled up her sleeves, called up her mum and learned to cook herself!
“I remembered calling up my mum in Malaysia, asking her about this recipe, and that recipe. Even when we were miles apart, she would share her cooking tips with me and it always made me feel as if she was there in the kitchen with me.”
-Zaleha Kadir Olpin
Participating in Masterchef UK
Being a homecook, Zaleha never expected to put her cooking skills to the test by participating in one of the most popular cooking competitions ever created. With the encouragement and support of her two daughters, she decided to audition and was selected.
Was it a surprise to her? Yes, definitely. Cooking has been a form of therapy for Zaleha and she felt that her skills were still inadequate for her to compete at such a prestigious level. However, she knew that this was a challenge for her. It was an opportunity to prove to herself that she could and was able to produce authentic Malaysian dishes like the ones she had enjoyed back home. While showcasing a Malaysian dish on the show did not go over as well as she had hoped, Zaleha remains optimistic.
“I wanted to showcase our Malaysian flavours to the world and of course, being rejected is definitely very disappointing for me but on a positive note, I have, inadvertently, put Malaysia on the map! I think I do achieve what I planned to do when I first join the competition. I would still prepare the same nasi lemak rendang if I have the chance to do it all over again.”
-Zaleha Kadir Olpin
Once a Malaysian, Always a Malaysian
Zaleha moved away from Malaysia at the tender age of seventeen. Hence, coming home never fails to take her down memory lane. She particularly has fond memories of cooking with her mother every Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration. She still remembers vividly waking up at the wee hours of the morning, preparing the holy trinity of Raya dishes; rendang, kuah kacang and ketupat.
She credits her mother for passing down this knowledge of the perfect kuah kacang and sambal recipes that are very much coveted by her peers as well as loved ones. So how do you make the perfect kuah kacang? Her tip is simple: put a lot of oil. Some of you might be knitting your eyebrows, imagining the thick layer of oil but Zaleha firmly holds to that tip until today.
Already an excellent cook, Zaleha never stops learning and discovering new recipes that she is proud to call as her own inventions. One of the most interesting of them is the satay pizza. Yes, satay pizza! As with many brilliant creations, it all happened through very little planning. She was too lazy to skewer the satay meat on a stick, so after flattening a lump of dough, she spread some kuah kacang on it, sprinkled diced capsicum, added a mountain of Mozarella cheese and voila! Zaleha’s very own satay pizza was created!
Want the recipe? Wait for her cookbook that will be coming to you soon!
To Infinity and Beyond
After Masterchef, her time has been filled with interviews, television appearances and events. Although slightly overwhelmed, Zaleha has faced it all with poise and a calm. One thing is for sure, Zaleha’s culinary journey has just begun and it will be exciting to see what awaits her in the future.
As fellow Malaysians, we cannot help but feel proud of her achievements and feel it is apt to celebrate her as one of Malaysia’s heroes in conjunction with the 61st Merdeka celebration. She has united us through food!
If you want more of Zaleha, make sure you catch her on MasterChef UK series 14 that will premiere on Thursday, 30th August at 8.20pm, exclusively on BBC Lifestyle (unifi ch 512). The series will also be on BBC Player (www.bbcplayer.com) as catch-up.