By CLARISSA SAY
FRENCH master chef Rodolphe Onno stands nearly a head taller than his students at Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia, acknowledging them as they pass by with a curt nod.
In September, he will be guiding a new, remarkably different batch of students – the finalists of the R.AGE Food Fight competition, for which he is a mentor and judge. Food Fight is a search for Malaysia’s next young food celebrity, but Onno is a hard man to impress.
“I really respect the young Malaysians who are starting independent food businesses here, but they must practice proper food safety,” he says emphatically.
“You must maintain a clean, professional environment. If just one person gets sick, that’s it. Always remember food safety.”
For Onno, cleanliness is next to godliness.
But hygiene isn’t the only thing he is looking out for. Perseverance is something he believes everyone needs in the food industry.
“Never stop; never say ‘I cannot’,” he says. “And they must be able to deliver consistently. You cannot be up and down, up and down as a chef. It must be always good.”
Sound advice for anyone hoping to venture into the food and beverage industry, especially for the eventual winner of Food Fight’s grand prize – RM10,000 in cash, a food column in The Star, a food video series on rage.com.my and a series of masterclasses with the likes of Chef Rodolphe, Chef Wan, Chef Darren Chin and food blogger KY Speaks.
One of the requirements of Food Fight is that contestants have to incorporate palm oil into the recipes they present in their video submissions, and mention at least one of its benefits.
Palm oil is actually a product Malaysians can be very proud of. It has a host of health benefits.
“It’s good for blood pressure, it helps prevent thrombosis and it’s rich in carotenoids, which acts as an antioxidant,” says Onno. It’s also cholesterol free.
On top of that, palm oil has a high smoke point. All oils have a smoke point, the temperature when it, well, smokes, and dangerous free radicals are released. That only happens to palm oil at around 235°C, compared to around 160°C for extra virgin olive oil.
For the five finalists, Onno will be doing a Tim Gunn from Project Runway. He’ll go through each finalist’s recipe, offering advice and technical know-how to improve not just the recipe, but their culinary skills as well.
He will also teach them to manage their kitchens like a professional chef.
The other Food Fight mentors will focus on other aspects to give the finalists a well-rounded education. Chef Wan will give advice on being a TV chef, Chef Darren will talk about the restaurant business in Malaysia, and KY will talk about how to use blogs and social media to your advantage.
The full interview with Chef Rodolphe:
Now that you’ve been here for a year and a month, what do you think of Malaysian food?
It’s a real cultural mix of food. Malay, Chinese, Indian. There is so much variety in Malaysian food. You can have something rich and oily, or something lighter, depending on what you want.
What’s your favourite food in Malaysia?
I don’t know… I love nasi lemak, and there’s this soup that I really like. I think it’s Chinese… Bak kut teh? That’s right! Bak kut teh. It’s very good.
What do you think about Malaysians’ famous love for food?
I think it’s great to have a nation who love to speak about food, who love to eat. Especially here in KL where everyone is busy, everything is fast. It’s very important to have time to cook and to eat. I just hope Malaysians won’t take too much fast food [laughs]!
Food is a way of passing down culture, so it’s important to pass that down to the next generation: how to eat well.
More young people are going into the F&B industry in Malaysia, especially with independent businesses. Have you been impressed by their efforts?
Yes. It’s a great idea! Young people have more time on their hands, so it’s good to see them sometimes have two or three jobs to complement their salary, which is very smart. I just hope that when they are in the kitchen, they respect the sanitary procedure. To keep everything in the fridge, meat below temperature, and so on. If someone gets sick, maybe just one, two people, or if someone complains, that’s it.
As a judge for the R.AGE Food Fight, what attributes will you be looking for in the eventual winner?
I hope they are motivated, that they really love what they do. More than that, I really hope they can endure difficulties. I think one quality important for any career is perseverance. Never stop, never say “I cannot”.
Some people who aren’t consistent, when starting a job they’ll think ‘Oh I want to reach here in two, three years’ but then two or three years pass and they feel like they haven’t reached that point yet. Thats when they start to get demotivated.
Do you have any tips or advice for those who are recording their submission videos?
Try to come up with something interesting, something out of the box. Presentation is very important, but if the food does not taste as good as it looks, then there’s no point. They need to make sure they can deliver.
Palm oil is the featured ingredient for R.AGE Food Fight. What are some of its benefits?
It’s good for blood pressure, it helps prevent thrombosis, and it’s rich in carotenoids, which acts as an antioxidant.
Can you share some tips on how to use palm oil?
Virgin palm oil can be quite red, which makes it difficult to use. But you could try adding it to some mayonnaise. But the problem with that is if I want to mix it in a batch of mayonnaise, I know that I can’t keep it in the fridge afterwards, because the palm oil will solidify the mix.
So if you want to use palm oil, maybe use it on things you will consume immediately and won’t be keeping in the fridge.
You could also try cooking something that is already reddish or dark in colour so the palm oil doesn’t stand out too much.
I’ve used palm oil with ikan tongkol, and the dish was already red, so the colouring didn’t affect it. You can do that.
What will Le Cordon Bleu be teaching the five finalists during the workshops, and how will it be helpful for their careers in the F&B industry?
When the finalists come with part of their recipe, I will go through it with them. The workflow, and the recipe, and decide them what to do for the final. I will give tips like do this, don’t do that, how to win and how to finalize their recipes.
I will also teach them how to manage and organise their kitchen, so they will have a clean and efficient environment.