I am what I ate

I am what I ate

By
Billy Law
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742703817
Photographer
Billy Law

I was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, and come from a family of eight. Even with so many mouths to feed, there was never a shortage of food on our table at dinner, with Mum preparing up to six dishes each night. Dinner time was always my favourite time of the day; the family sitting together over a meal, sharing the events of our daily lives with each other. Whenever my mum cooked a whole fish, my dad would usually go for the head, my sisters preferred the no-bones meaty part, while my second brother and I would fight for the crispy fish tail. It’s these small things, this ability to connect with one another through our food, that defines the unity in our family.

Many Malaysians never really think themselves as ‘foodies’ because food simply runs in our bloodstreams, and eating six times a day in this food-obsessed country is considered quite normal. For me, a day’s meal could include wonton noodle soup for breakfast followed by a light fruit snack to beat the tropical heat, then Hainan chicken rice for lunch, Malay kuih (cake) for afternoon tea, Mum’s cooking for dinner, and then a midnight snack with friends at a local mamak stall for hawker food: satay skewers, ice kachang and roti canai. I love food in all its amazing variety and I believe we should try everything once, love it or hate it. But when it came to cooking, that was another story.

Never too late

My cooking history is pretty boring and definitely not as nostalgic when compared to others. There are no stories of me as a kid spending time in the kitchen cooking with my mum, nor are there any recipes that have been handed down from my mum or my grandma to me. Occasionally, I was asked to help roll peanut butter cookies during Lunar New Year or to pound the chilli paste in a mortar and pestle, but that’s as far as my cooking duties went. Even though we never helped much in the kitchen, I still liked to watch my mum cook, observing the ingredients as she threw them into the wok, how she seasoned dishes just by guess, the way she chopped a whole chicken or fried a whole fish — I was fascinated by it all.

I actually didn’t pick up a spatula and a wok until I was nineteen, when I moved to Australia in 1996 to further study computer science. Like any poor uni student, the only way to survive the hunger pangs was to start cooking. I still remember the first dish that I cooked for my housemates: honey and soy-glazed chicken wings. And, believe it or not, that was the first time I ever touched cold raw meat with my bare hands! Thankfully, the dish was a hit but, more importantly, it was my first baby step towards discovering my love of cooking.

Cooking up a storm

Fast forward 15 years later, and I suddenly found myself cooking for Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston as part of the TV cooking show MasterChef Australia. I had never imagined, not in a million years, that I’d be cooking in front of cameras while millions of Australians were glued to the TV watching me.

It was a gruelling six months’ experience, yet also the most rewarding one in my cooking journey thus far. I feel incredibly grateful and humbled to have met people on the show that I greatly admire, including Heston Blumenthal, René Redzepi, Anthony Bourdain, Maggie Beer, David Chang, Marco Pierre White and Nigella Lawson, to name just a few. And, not to forget to mention the opportunity of meeting and cooking one of my favourite vegetarian dishes for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. This was a money-can’t-buy experience that I will cherish forever.

Then there were the other 23 contestants that I met in the MasterChef house. Despite the fact we were all competing against each other, we found ourselves helping one other in the kitchen, sharing cooking tips and supporting each other throughout the whole process — bonded by our love of good food.

Have you eaten?

But before MasterChef, many may already know me as Billy, the food blogger behind A Table For Two (www. atablefortwo.com.au). I’ve been writing my blog for over 4 years now, and it is a great way for me to share my recipes, dining experiences and occasional travel stories with anyone who is interested. Through my food blog and my involvement in MasterChef, a whole new culinary door opened for me, and I was very lucky to meet so many talented people in the industry, including my friend Paul from Hardie Grant Books. When he approached me with an opportunity to write a cookbook, I immediately jumped at his offer!

In the beginning it was all a blur, and I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Even though I didn’t have a theme for the book and nor did I know what recipes I wanted to write, I already had the perfect title in mind. In Malaysia, it is quite common for Malaysians to greet each other saying, ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of the usual, ‘Hey, how are you?’ I simply couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for the title of a cookbook that reflects my background, my culture and my food.

Have You Eaten? is a book for those who love cooking and want to learn more, and for those who want to get a little bit more creative in the kitchen. There is something for everyone, from easy peasy weeknight meals to fancy dinner party dishes. Some of the recipes may look daunting and complicated, but I’ve written them so you can pull them apart into smaller recipes that can be easily achieved. You will also find some of the components in some recipes can be adapted to other dishes in the cookbook.

I truly believe there are no fixed rules in cooking. Once you have grasped the basic theories of flavours and texture matching, the possibilities are endless and that’s what makes cooking so enjoyable!

So, have you eaten?

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