KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — MasterChef Australia 2017 winner Diana Chan rolled up her sleeves this afternoon for an exciting masterclass with students from the Dignity for Children Foundation, a charity focused on empowering refugee youths.
The social enterprise aims to provide a real-life training platform for underprivileged teens to hone employability skills, and Chan’s visit was a prime opportunity for them to flex their culinary muscles while picking up useful advice for their future careers.
The Eat X Dignity cafe in Sentul was filled with the fragrance of local herbs freshly picked from the cafe’s garden as the chef busied herself with preparing a tasty spread of nasi ulam.
Chan, who hails from Johor Baru, chose to make nasi ulam as the dish would allow local produce to shine while paying homage to her Peranakan roots.
Two young talents from the Dignity for Children foundation assisted her as they sliced up the ingredients and mixed them into a bowl of steamed rice.
Local herbs such as ulam raja, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass lent the dish an aromatic twist while dried shrimps and dried salted fish gave the rice a mouthwatering umami edge.
The dish was then garnished with white pepper and chopped red chili for a spicy kick.
Chan said she was ecstatic to give back to the community through the class.
“The students are so eager to learn and very hardworking. I think they’re very lucky to be involved with an association like Dignity for Children because it’s a very wholesome and healthy environment here.
“Studying theory may not always be for everyone so learning practical skills in the kitchen is actually more uplifting and skillful and useful for these individuals,” she told Malay Mail.
Malaysian food also carries a strong sense of nostalgia for Chan who has been living in Australia since the age of 19.
“Some of my fondest memories learning about food involved being in the kitchen with my mum. I didn’t always cook but I loved watching her prepare and cook different recipes.
“Every time I go home to Johor Baru, it’s always so great to taste her home cooking again. It brings back a lot of memories for me,” she said.
Through her work, Chan hopes she can cultivate public awareness about food education and sustainability, two causes that are close to the chef’s heart.
“I definitely think food education at home or in school is crucial to a child’s upbringing. You’ll want to know if your chicken was raised in a free-range farm or if your herbs are organically grown.
“Eating shouldn’t just be about filling yourself up but it should also be about looking after your health and the environment,” she added.
One of the students working at the Eat X Dignity cafe, Azis Fatima, said it was a great learning experience getting to cook alongside Chan.
“Learning with Diana in the kitchen and listening to her story has been so amazing.
“I’m really into learning about new recipes, especially when it comes to drinks,” the 16-year-old told Malay Mail.
Fatima hopes to pursue a law degree and possibly open her own cafe in the future.
The road going into the food and beverage industry can be a bumpy one and Chan offered some sound advice for young people who are looking to break into the industry.
“Follow your passion and keep at it. The reality of the food and beverage industry is that it consists of a lot of hard work and long hours.
“Good food and good service are of utmost importance in the hospitality field. With those two elements, you’re off on the right track,” she said.
The chef is back in Malaysia as part of a public diplomacy program organised by the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.