THE challenge was simple – make the best possible dish with palm oil as a featured ingredient. The execution? Not so much.
The five R.AGE Food Fight finalists, each vying to be Malaysia’s next food celebrity, had their culinary skills put to the test on Saturday by Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia master chef Rodolphe Onno ahead of the Food Fight finale on Oct 31.
Hailing from Brittany, France, Onno gave the finalists two and a half hours to prepare their dishes at the very well-equipped Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia kitchen, giving them advice every step of the way.
Now, to be a Le Cordon Bleu master chef, you need at least 20 years’ experience. No surprise then, that Onno was extremely meticulous in picking apart the finalists’ recipes and workflow.
Ahong Yeang, a Masterchef Malaysia finalist and chef/owner of Grub, said it was great having Onno on board as a mentor.
“He is a very technical person. He sees a lot of details that we missed,” said Yeang.
“The pressure of having a French master chef looking over your shoulder made me feel like a commis again. The adrenaline rush gave me a kick and I enjoyed it.”
There was a slight problem for Yeang, though – some of the ingredients provided by Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia were not quite what he had in mind.
“I didn’t get all the ingredients I requested. I wanted the small ikan bilis we normally eat, but they gave me fancy Italian anchovies!” he said.
Singer and food blogger Kelly Siew said the session with Onno was tough, but a good way to prepare for the finale, where the finalists will be doing a live demonstration of their dishes in front of judges Chef Wan, Chef Darren Chin, food blogger KY Speaks, performing artiste/chef Liang and Onno.
The winner of the finale will get RM10,000, a food column in The Star, and a video series on TheStarTV.com and R.AGE.
“It was a very nerve-wracking experience, but we just have to push through the pressure,” said Siew. “I need to practice more to make sure my dish will be perfect during the finale.”
Another finalist, Nurilkarim Razha, manager and chef of Jawi House Café Gallery, found the session with Onno very educational.
“I personally enjoyed working in a professional kitchen, with stainless steel all around. Chef Onno guided me in terms of my portioning, and how much ingredients I should prep for the finale. It’s important to organise our ingredients and work on our presentation more.”
Ashley Pan, like the others, learned the importance of keeping workstations clean.
“Chef Onno said it’s not so much about cleanliness, but more about having a clear mind every time you are working at your station,” said Pan.
“I was so flustered but when I organised and cleaned my workstation as he told me to, I started to work more smoothly.”
Li-Anne Kuek, a food stylist and graphic designer, was just as happy with the experience. “You can tell that he really wants you to learn. It was a wake up call for me to step up and do better. I’m keen for the finale to see how everything goes.”
The finalists weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the session – Onno, who has been the technical director for Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia for over a year, enjoyed it as well.
“They each have their own level of cooking which they were eager to translate into their recipes. They have a good foundation but more work needs to be done to refine their techniques before the finale.”
But regardless of whether they win the finale, all five finalists will still go home with some amazing prizes, including more workshops at Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia on modern contemporary and traditional cooking processes.
Other prizes include professional training courses at Barista Guild Asia, a pair of knives from Wüsthof (used by the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart), as well as cash prizes for the first and second runners-up.
Onno added that the contestants all managed to incorporate palm oil into their recipes very well. “One of them used palm oil to make mayonnaise, and another replaced butter with palm oil to make her pumpkin loaf.
“Palm oil is very versatile and can be used in many dishes. Personally, I like using it more for frying.”
Nuril used palm oil in every component of his dish, and he found it very easy to work with.
“It’s neutral. It doesn’t have a very strong taste so it doesn’t distract the flavours from the other components in your dish. I used it in my salad dressing and my pesto, which usually uses olive oil.”
Yeang left his vegetables marinated in palm oil to slowly cook in the oven to save time. He found that the red palm oil gave the sauce a beautiful reddish finish.
“It’s a very efficient product. It can be used in clean cooking.
“It has a high smoking point so you can fry at a high heat without burning the oil,” said Yeang.
Li-Anne used the same red palm oil in her pumpkin loaf and it gave a nice orange colour, making it more prominent.
“Palm oil is a good alternative to butter because it’s cholesterol-free and it has a lot of antioxidants. I use it a lot in my baking and it works well if you’re health conscious.”
To watch all our R.AGE Food Fight videos, go to rage.com.my/foodfight.