KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — Malaysian celebrity chef Sherson Lian described two MasterChef UK judges as “ignorant” about local cuisine after they booted Kuantan-born contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin from the show, triggering a Twitter food war.
The popular TV chef, who has presented Family Kitchen with Sherson on the Asian Food Channel and TV3’s 5 Rencah 5 Rasa, was shocked to hear Zaleha lost her place in the quarterfinals after the judges criticised the taste and texture of the chicken rendang accompanying her nasi lemak dish.
“Of course, chicken rendang cannot be cooked with a crispy skin. Traditionally, it is made by kampung people with kampung chicken. It’s definitely not beef stew falling-off-the-bone kind of thing,” Lian said.
One of the two judges Gregg Wallace threw shade at the rendang accompanying Zaleha’s nasi lemak dish by saying the “the skin wasn’t crispy”.
The other judge, John Torode, had said the meat should be “really soft and falling apart”.
Lian had previously worked with Torode on screen when the latter hosted a 10-part series, John Torode’s Malaysian Adventure for the UK’s Good Food channel, which aired in 2015.
Torode met Lian during his travels around Malaysia, which was also when the latter cooked a nasi lemak dish for the Australian chef, who also encountered rendang on a visit to Langkawi during the series, raising doubts over his supposed misinterpretation of Zaleha’s dish.
“Also, how is it you can throw such ignorant comments without knowing about the dish? It’s only fair for the contestant participating in such a prestigious competition that you should know how to judge.
“You should have some knowledge about how rendang is presented. I’m quite curious that [Torode and Wallace] have criticised without knowing much about it,” Lian added.
Lian said the MasterChef UK judges should be in a better position to critique food prepared by the contestants.
“I’m not in a position to say who’s made a mistake here. But be it Torode or anyone else in a cooking show, particularly if they’re going to judge, should know what they’re judging,” said Lian, who was initially unaware of the drama that has unfolded over the past few days as he was away in Thailand.
“They need more insight about the cuisine before they throw such heavy judgment upon it. It doesn’t make sense.
“A rendang with crispy chicken skin? It’s like saying why porridge is not al dente.”
Torode and Wallace were unimpressed by Zaleha’s dish, but the pair’s comments raised serious doubts about a fair contest.
Rendang is curry cooked with Asian spices and coconut milk.
Lian’s comments come after Torode stirred fury on social media in an attempt to address the debate, but only added fuel to the fire by suggesting rendang was of Indonesian origin before signing off the Twitter message by saying “Namaste”, an expression native to India.
Malaysians took offence and accused Torode of being “embarrassing” and culturally “disrespectful”.
Lian’s thoughts on the rendang dish echo those of fellow Malaysian celebrity chef Datuk Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan, who also defended Zaleha.
Speaking on Instagram this morning, Chef Wan expanded on previous comments that it was impossible to recreate chicken rendang with a crispy skin.
“Both judges obviously do not know how our signature dish should taste like much less how to prepare them,” he said in reference to Torode and Wallace.
“Not only (did) these two judges embarrass Zaleha, but ruined her participation.
“Due to the wrong reason, she was eliminated,” he posted with a photo of chicken rendang to his @_chefwan58 account.
A few days ago Kak Zaharah from London who is our NST writer asked me to watch on youtube the new Master Chef UK serie with our Malaysian cook Puan Zaleha preparing her Nasi Lemak and Rendang dish. She then asked my honest comment which many of u have read by now on NST and even Star online. Both judges with little knowledge on how prepare the dish had told Zaleha that her chicken rendang skin was not crispy enough, too much sauce sitting on it at the same time the meat didnt fall of the bones! They were also comment on the Nasi lemak and Sambal which i find to be all unfair comment and a bummer as both judges obviously does not know how the our signature dish should taste like much less how to prepare them. How can a dish which is stew or braised slowly for a period of time like their French Coq Au Vin the braise Chicken in Red wine? She not preparing Duck A L' Orange or Confit D Carnard either that need to have that crispy skin! Due to the wrong reason she was eliminated. Not only those two judges embarassed Zaleha but ruined her participation. Its ok if she lost to the rest for the right reason but its not the case. They should bring her in back again and sincerely appologise back to her in public if Masterchef UK need to restore back his credibility. Hai ya next time if John Thorode and Greg dont understand the dish better not say the wrong thing la. There no such thing as all Sambal has to be fiery hot and Nasi lemak must have less coconut milk and the Chicken Rendang does not belong there, nonsense and rubbish. Torode have filmed in Malaysia before and made Rendang with Kak Ani on his show anyway. Yes judging at Zaleha chicken dish visibily on the screen i must say she can cook it longer if she had the time.But not till it fall off the bloody bone Mr Torode! I was told by a friend this is the same guy that went to make Chili crab dish ke using a Rojak sambal paste on TV as a subsitute. Anyway in 2016 John Torode in his Msian Adventure TV serie went to Langkawi and make the Rendang Itik. Its on youtube does he remember how the dish is made. He should just tell Greg " Blind me shut up your mouth Greg if u have not cook a Rendang! I have made them !🤣"