Chef Wan is a household name in Asia with more than 20 years of experience in the industry and known for his flamboyant sense of style. His talents range from chef, author and actor to TV host and publisher. Here in Expo Milano 2015 he talks about food, spices, tourism and happiness… in Malaysia.
You know, I’ve always loved food, from when I was young. But my father said “Oh, you’re very good in your studies, you must become….” In those days, parents are very proud if their son is a doctor, lawyer and architect. And you know, chef, no! But then I’ve always loved food: cook, cook, cook! So one moment after seven years in a bank I decided, “No, this is not fun.” Because I like to make people happy! I’m a very happy person. So that’s how I find that food makes people happy. If you’re a good cook, you feed people and people are happy. So that’s why it’s very important to me to have happiness first. Happiness, work hard and then success. But no, some people say, no I work hard first and then I have success and I am happy. For me no - Happiness first!
For me my principle is simple. Food is love, food is friendship. All this comes from your heart, very important.
Yes, here it’s always like that. For me it’s where people are coming together. So this is the true spirit of being a chef for me.
We have a dish we call nasi lemak, which is rice. It is very Malaysian. You cannot find this dish anywhere around the world except in Malaysia. And the dish is enjoyed by many cultures: whether you’re Chinese or you’re Indian... even the ex-patriot people living in Malaysia love nasi lemak. And so nasi lemak is a food for breakfast. It’s a food for lunch. It’s a food for late supper. People eat it all the time. Just like your pizza! All the time! And when people gather together to sit among friends you eat pizza, we eat nasi lemak. So nasi lemak is something that we want to get to the world too. It is loved by many cultures. Very important. So that’s why, something round, something universal, something with everybody holding hands, the pizza is perfect!
When I cook I love using a variety of fresh herbs. So I don’t have one in particular because it depends on what I do. No,because I am very international. I do Moroccan food, I do Spanish, I do Italian and I try to do that. So there’s not one that represents me. Because I think I’m always a man of the world. So I embrace all cultures. So that’s why it’s very important in my cooking on television I do everything. I do Italian. I do French. Don’t forget I lived in America for 14 years. I went to school in America. My background has always been French. Of course I polished things up over the years. I went to Tuscany. I went to Sicily to make all the pasta and I make potato gnocchi. The first time I learned to make gnocchi was in Brescia, 27 years ago! This lady, Mamma Mina, she is 98 years old and she sits down in the kitchen with red wine at 9 o’clock in the morning. And I say “Mamma! I want to make potato gnocchi” OK! She’d take the potato throw some cream in, and then she'd put her hand and in and add a bit of flour, and roll it a bit and she’d take the knife and tac tac tac!... And then she’d cook it in the water. And then she’d say “Ah, wait! It’s time to take it out!” And she’d scoop it out and she would throw in some butter. And then after that she’d take the sage, the dry kind, like that (crunch!) and then Parmigiano Reggiano. And then she’d put it on the bread. She’d say “Mangia!” So I’d try it and “Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s so delicious!” But because she made it right, with the best butter, the best Parmesan cheese, and then she added something of herself. Even drinking akk that red wine, she's 98, eh?!
In Malaysia we have a very large choice of street food. I think that they must try satay, the meat in the peanut sauce we have. Or… Noodles. You see, we have many varieties of noodles that they should try. Because in Malaysia food is very cheap. You’ll pay maybe one or two euro and you’ll get a big plate. One euro! A big plate of noodles! Phew! That’s why you see a lot of tourists. Eat watermelon. Half a watermelon is only 2 euro: half! PIneapple! Half a euro! So that’s why we want people to travel and visit us! Because we have beautiful islands. We have forests, we have nice markets and, above all, we have beautiful people.