It’s 5 o’clock in the morning, and the alarm is ringing. It is not uncommon for the amiable Chef Nik Michael Imran to be up at this hour and ready for a packed day. Besides being a family man with a baby on the way any day now, he is also constantly busy with his F&B establishment at Common Ground which has grown dramatically from one outlet to multiple locations across Malaysia in just under two years. Uh oh… as a family man and responsible chef, what is he to do? Not once, not twice but considering one priority after another has become a daily affair.
Is a chef’s life in the kitchen, surrounded by the pristine ingredients of our mother earth, as glamorous, as globetrotting, behind the camera as people perceive it to be? The life of a chef… reality check!
“Just because I am on TV, it doesn’t necessarily mean I am a celebrity. I just happen to be a cook who shows up on TV. I am confident in what I do. Being a cook – that’s my pride and joy. I don’t need to prove those who doubt me wrong. I just need to prove myself right.”
Life as a celebrity chef isn’t all rainbow sprinkles and cupcakes. Being recognized doesn’t equal to being acknowledged – Chef Nik has to overcome the public’s longstanding prejudice as a chef with the pretty face. “Can he actually cook?” “Is a celebrity chef even a proper chef?” “It’s probably just the face” are just some of the prejudice he has deal with every day.
Make Your Legacy Known
Little does everyone know, he didn’t always have it easy. He is passionate about Malaysian food and culture, but with an interest in pushing the boundaries of fusion cuisine. His first gained exposure at age 9 picking up cooking skills from his father, an Australian trained chef. Although, Chef Nik has learned so much from his father, he had an interest in contemporary cooking which was something he had to find a way to learn himself.
It was an uphill battle. He tried his luck approaching prominent chefs and strangers hoping that they would be willing to impart their knowledgeable skills. But, you guessed it; they rejected him immediately.
His early experience has cemented his belief that food is meant to be shared. Not just the joy of tasting but the skills involved in creating. He promised not to let other people go through the same experience and shares as much as he can.
“It’s not about how good you can cook but whether you are going to cook it or not. Food is meant for sharing – the more you share, and the more people crave for it. You don’t live forever, so why not make your legacy known instead?” – Chef Nik Michael Imran
Test and Trial in the Culinary World
So, what about contemporary cooking does Chef Nik find so appealing? He knew as much as this: the culinary world is anyone’s game of test and trial. Cooking techniques evolve, and trends will always come and go. Traditional ways and techniques are great because we all need to go back to the basics and learn from them. But as much as we need to stay true to our roots, we need to adapt to change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all learn from each other, old and new ways?
All Chef Nik wants is for people to grow together – chefs, culinary enthusiasts and home cooks in this industry.
Cooking is Art and Chemistry
Chef Nik puts his heart in his passion and works long hours to live his dream. He takes a scientific approach to cooking. Science is science – it is a fact, and there’s no way out of it. Cooking is an art with a generous dash of chemistry. It’s the underlying basis of understanding why and how each ingredient tastes the way that they do and why certain cooking methods work the way they do.
Sometimes kitchen experiments are a success, and sometimes they fail. Mistakes are inevitable, and to him, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you learn from it.
“Just remember the 3Ts: temperature, time and texture. Get it right, and you’ll cook alright. From there on, the kitchen is a playful lab to experiment in.” – Chef Nik Michael Imran
Balancing Life as a Chef and Business Owner
Chef Nik is not only a chef but a business owner too. Tackling the art of social media, IT, management, finance, public relations, marketing, human resources and customer service are just a few of the jobs he has to juggle.
He gets up early, monitors his central kitchen, checks up on his cafes back and forth, heads home late, and repeats this process the next day. Many would say living in both worlds is overwhelming, but to Chef Nik, it isn’t difficult. It’s just a lot of perseverance and hard work.
“It wasn’t rocket science – I still go through trials and errors in the business, but the key is always to be quick, to adapt and to always find the balance in between.” – Chef Nik Michael Imran
From the moment he decided to start his catering business, he was already fully committed and dedicated to always give his best. Every event has a challenge of its own but where’s the fun without it? From clients such as the Twin Tower to Prasarana, he always goes beyond expectation to cater to their preference and never compromises with the quality of food; often incorporating something special to fine tune a dish to a whole new level. Imagine piping hot waffles topped with crispy, succulent buttermilk chicken drizzled with sweet classic maple sauce, all of which is cooked right on the spot – yes, served fresh and warm. Definitely not your ordinary catering business.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
With a great vision in mind, he knew he had to have a great team… and he found them. His team isn’t made up of a bunch of culinary connoisseurs but rather individuals with a heart to learn and work hard for it. To Chef Nik, that is all that matters. He goes back to basics to teach his team, and it’s worth the process as they have come up roses.
A good indication of how well his team works together is their ability to joke around with the boss. They often jokingly rate his food to be “just okay lah, Chef.” That’s the key – everyone needs to feel valued and appreciated in the kitchen, that no one else is above the other. Only then will teamwork make the dream work.
“I get too much credit for what I do. If anything, it’s the effort of the whole kitchen team, and I genuinely appreciate what they do in the kitchen every day. In addition, each and every ingredient is a gift from God, and all I do is honour the ingredients by bringing out the best in them. I am thankful,” says Chef Nik.
Tie up that Apron
At the end of a work day, the sun sets, and the moon brightly lights up the night sky. The day has passed and the team is exhausted. But people are smiling. That is the moment when Chef Nik feels a profound sense of inner happiness. It is always that fleeting, seemingly random instant that is the most meaningful; a constant reminder of why he does what he does, and it’s worth it.
“It’s true that being a chef is undoubtedly one of the most underappreciated jobs – the long hours in the kitchen, the heat in the kitchen. Sometimes I work 20 hours straight and my days’ bleed into each other. Of course, there will always be days wherein I’ll wonder if what I’m doing is right, or how much longer I will have the energy for it. But until then, I’ll always tie up that apron and take a whisk.” – Chef Nik Michael Imran
As a lifelong learner and perfectionist, Chef Nik still believes that he has a long way to go to accomplish his dreams, but he’s definitely en-route to the finish line.
What’s Next Chef?
At the age of 29, Chef Nik has achieved more than many at his age. From opening several cafes under Common Ground to running his own catering service to being the Culinary Director of Butterkicap, an independent online platform working to spread happiness and create unity by using the power of Malaysian food. But Chef Nik is far from done. What’s in his future?
To get to know Chef Nik better and find out what’s next, check out our 5 minute interview with him where we bombarded him with questions.
If you’re looking to try some of Chef Nik’s recipes for yourself, we have them here:
- Juicy Beef Tenderloin
- Savoury Pan Seared Siakap with Kicap
- Ayam Masak Merah (Spicy Tomato Chicken)
- Savoury Pan Mee