Life after Masterchef with award-winning cook Zaleha Olpin
The last time we contacted Malaysian-born cook Zaleha Kadir Olpin (read her interview here) was immediately following the infamous ‘Rendang Gate’ controversy in 2018.
You’ll recall that Zaleha was knocked out of BBC’s cooking show Masterchef when judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace ignorantly criticised the chicken skin in her Malaysian rendang dish as non-crispy.
Her elimination from the show kicked up an international Twitter storm with the Masterchef presenters being lambasted no less by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razek and British High Commissioner to Malaysia Vicki Treadell.
But the incident made Zaleha a household name both in Malaysia and her hometown of Bristol; and it appears that she hasn’t looked back since.
The irony is that this Ramadan, she proudly announced her debut cookbook ‘My Rendang Isn’t Crispy and Other Favourite Malaysian Dishes’ as having won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for its nominated category.
We’ve caught up with Zaleha to find out what she’s been up to since Masterchef, how life has changed for her, and what she’s now doing with her fame and recognition.
I have not seen John or Greg; and I don’t intend on sending my cookbook to them to be honest!
FtLion: A lot has obviously changed for you since Masterchef in 2018 and the ‘Rendang Gate’ incident. How does the Zaleha of today differ from the Zaleha of back then?
Indeed! MasterChef and ‘Rendang Gate’ has changed my life. But I am the same person; just a bit stronger and thicker-skinned.
FtLion: One of your objectives in competing on Masterchef, you told us, was to “promote authentic Malaysian food in the UK”. Have you witnessed any changes of perception towards Malaysian cuisine since then?
Yes of course, especially in Bristol. I have brought in traditional Malaysian cuisine in my supper clubs, pop-ups, cookery demos and lessons. So far, it has been well received, alhamdulillah!
FtLion: With your debut cookbook ‘My Rendang Isn’t Crispy and Other Favourite Malaysian Dishes’ having won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award, do you feel like you’ve now come full circle since said controversy?
Winning this award is a huge accomplishment in my journey, and for that I am very grateful for all the support from around the globe. I do feel complete, but I want to do more! This is only the first lap, lol!
FtLion: When was the last time you bumped into John and Greg, and have they had anything to say on your success since Masterchef? Have you sent them a signed copy of your cookbook yet?
I have not seen John or Greg; and I don’t intend on sending my cookbook to them to be honest. I am not sure either of them have said anything about my book or about my win #idontdotwitter.
FtLion: What would you say is the three most important things to focus on for anyone wanting to publish a cookbook?
- Stay true to yourself. If you are a traditionalist, keep your book as it is. Don’t change your principles just because you want to publish a cookbook.
- Don’t get frustrated! It’s a long and arduous journey writing a cookbook, but you will get there in the end. I went through so many drafts before I was happy and content with my book.
- A picture paints a thousand words! Food photography plays a vital role in your book. You can have the best recipe in the world, but people still drool at food photos. I am still learning, and I was very lucky to have my amazing photographer Mireya Gonzalez.
FtLion: Tell us more about the launch of your homemade ‘That Redang Lady’ paste range you recently launched?
That was one of the best things I have done in my life – producing my own product range. It came naturally, because I like to make homemade jams, cookies, cakes, and curry pastes to give away for Eid, Christmas, and door-gifts. Those who had tasted my pastes kept pestering me to make more for them and that they would be happy to pay for it. That’s when it started – from giving gifts to friends and family – and now I am sending my pastes to the UK, Ireland, Scotland, France, Amsterdam, and Malaysia, of course. Alhamdulillah!
FtLion: How have your two daughters responded to their mother’s culinary success, fame and recognition? Do you think there might be a budding chef in any of them?
My daughters just see me as their mother. But every now and then, they do find it a little bit stressful, since I am always busy with work if not cooking. My girls are probably more of a baker compared to cooking. But who knows? I didn’t start cooking until I left home 20-years-ago!
FtLion: How has Covid-19 and the current lockdown affected your plans for this summer and beyond, and what alternative plans have you made instead?
Besides the cancellation of all my work in the UK and Malaysia, we might not be travelling anywhere and are staying put in Bristol during the summer holidays.
I am gutted to have missed my work at a top hotel in Malaysia to run their Ramadan Bazaar. But there will be other opportunities, Insha’Allah. For now, I take it one day at a time.
FtLion: There’s rumours that you’re working on a new cookbook which won’t be Malaysian! Can you tease our readers with a little bit more about that?
Shhhhhhh; can’t disclose just yet. But, Insha’Allah, all will be revealed soon. I promise.
FtLion: What are your plans for both the short- and long-term future? Any more pastes or products being planned?
In terms of short-term plan, I will carry on cooking live on my social media. In the long run, there are two new products to be released soon. I am working hard on the final touches and can’t wait to share with you all.