YOU probably know his name. Your parents definitely know his name. Chef Wan, or Redzuawan Ismail, has been steadily making said name for himself on television as the Malaysian celebrity chef.
We sat with him to talk about his role as a judge and mentor for R.AGE Food Fight, the search for Malaysia’s next food celebrity. He tells us what he’s looking for from contestants, and what he thinks of Malaysia’s new wave of young F&B entrepreneurs.
As a judge for the R.AGE Food Fight, what will you be looking for in the contestants?
In the making of a star, you need more than just a talent for cooking. There are plenty of great cooks out there. But being on television, you need a personality – a person with a bit of charisma, and hopefully a person with great values when it comes to food.
We’re also looking for a person who can impart knowledge very effectively. Which naturally means you need to be someone who can converse very well.
And above all, we need someone with a bit of style, who has some entertainment value. Because not everybody who watches cooking shows likes to cook. They like to be entertained as well, so that has to come from the host. You have to be very comfortable with the way you’re talking.
Why should the people reading this join the R.AGE Food Fight?
When you’ve got what it takes to be a star, you’ll shine. And for a TV star, there are a lot of wonderful benefits because you’re out there travelling the world, sharing food, and as I always believe, food is love. Food is friendship. Food is peace. And food is respect to all of human kind. So when you’re in those shoes, you’ll have a lot of wonderful things to share with the world.
What do you think about the new generation of F&B entrepreneurs in Malaysia?
I think food trucks are a fabulous idea, because they provide people with the ability to have a variety of cuisine in a mobile restaurant.
Besides that, I think it’s wonderful to have this young generation who inspire others and who embark on this entrepreneurial journey and showcase their cuisine, their skill. I think it’s lovely and exciting!
But the government should also have some form of control over the little things like where they park, where they dispose of their rubbish.
Hygiene is an issue as well. Because restaurants can be visited by the health officials, but we don’t know where the food trucks will be, or when you’re cooking food at home, what the conditions are like. These are the kind of things that need some kind of guidance from the health officials.
What advice do you have for those looking to start up their own businesses?
The competition is very stiff. I think it’s nice to have variety. Be creative but be careful.
My advice is do something different if you’re going to build a brand. Look into all those important things, don’t just open a food truck that serves food, but a food truck that serves food that cares for the people. So your food has to be nutritious, good, healthy, affordable, and tasty.
Younger food entrepreneurs have been opening a lot of cafes. What do you think about that trend?
A lot of cafes are opening; but then again a lot of cafes are also closing.
It’s a risky business. A lot of people have all these dreams of opening a new restaurant, or a new cafe but they have no idea what food and beverage is all about. So they don’t keep track of the cost, the operating expenses, they don’t know where to market, they don’t keep an eye on the competition and they don’t maintain quality. And getting good people isn’t easy.
As much as it’s wonderful to have a restaurant to call your own, it’s really difficult.
Culinary arts is becoming an increasingly popular course in Malaysian universities; but is it a tough industry to survive in?
The thing is, people forget that to be a chef, it takes more than a talent to cook. You need a good attitude.
Being creative or innovative is one thing, but you have to be a very strong-minded person. It’s hard work – the hours are very long, you’re standing on your feet for hours, and you’re surrounded by a lot of stress.
You’re working in a small kitchen. It’s crowded. It’s hot. And the industry is filled with people who have attitude. So in running the kitchen, you need to have teamwork, you can’t just fly solo. The hours are very long, most often you get burnt out very easily. Not everyone can make it work.
The deadline for R.AGE Food Fight submissions has been extended to September 27, so chop chop!
R.AGE Food Fight is part of Star Media Group’s initiative to educate Malaysians on the importance of palm oil to the nation’s economy, as well as its many uses and benefits.