There is a new award in town and it celebrates our inherent love for food and drink, with a dash of good writing thrown into the mix. It is open for submissions now, with a closing date of Sept 15.
A tribute to the life and achievements of writer, food critic, publisher and radio/TV personality Fay Khoo, who died in April this year after a battle with lung cancer, the Fay Khoo Award for Food and Drink Writing (www.thefaykhooaward.com) serves not just as a reminder of her dedication and passion to her craft, but also hopes to recognise new and talented voices in food and drink writing.
“The idea for this award came to me shortly after Fay was taken away from us. Apart from the loss of a friend of 20 years, I realised that we had lost a singular voice, a storyteller unique in translating her passion into her life’s work. Fay didn’t do anything by halves, so this is a tribute to her hard work and all that she achieved. I hope writers are inspired by her dedication and her utmost respect for her craft, to attempt the same,” says award organiser Bettina Chua Abdullah, who plans to run this every year.
Khoo wrote and edited books, is the founder of a publishing house, contributed to several magazines and newspapers, including The Star, and was a presenter on BFM radio station.
“She even had her own spices range! I didn’t want anyone to forget that side of Fay Khoo, so after her parents and husband gave me their blessing, the award was born with the help of a few friends who has also been close to Fay,” Chua explains in an e-mail interview.
She shares that Khoo never saw food writing as “just work”, and the one thing they both had in common with each other was that they adored Britain’s The Sunday Times restaurant critic AA Gill’s food writing.
“That really is as high a bar anyone can set for themselves. Fay loved everything about the business of food and eating. She was devoted to the enjoyment of food, so she ate, obsessively and voraciously. And she had a natural empathy with people, so she talked to everyone: the farmer, the chef, the hawker, the restaurateur, the person at the next table …. She had a playful quality about her that endeared her to so many people, and that was reflected in her radio show and her writing,” she says.
Being a publisher and editor made Khoo all the more mindful of what made good writing, that it had to be engaging and informative, but also succinct and entertaining, for a discerning audience, Chua muses.
“She imposed a very high standard of writing on herself. Knowing what is, and what isn’t good writing, only comes from reading. Fay read a lot, it is a habit her father instilled in her from when she was a child, and she loved books till the end,” she observes.
‘She talked to everyone: the farmer, the chef, the hawker, the restaurateur, the person at the next table …. She had a playful quality about her that endeared her to so many people…’
The Fay Khoo Award for Food and Drink Writing will have three judges on the panel, including Chua and food/travel writer John Brunton, who contributes to The Guardian.
All submissions must be in English, be non-fictional (blog posts, short stories and poems will not be considered) and should not exceed 2,000 words. It is open to anyone over 18 years of age as of Sept 15, 2017, who is a citizen or resident of any Asean country. Entries must never have been published anywhere, in any form, before. A fee of RM20 per submission (each person may submit up to three works) will be levied. The winning entry will be announced at the George Town Literary Festival in November.
Chua is a firm believer that scholarship in any field is important, and points out that food writing as a genre has an inherently wide audience.
“We are the only animals that tell stories. Cooking and storytelling are unique to humans, we are made for food writing. After all, who isn’t interested in food on some level? But it is only when ideas and knowledge is preserved in a form accessible to a wider community, are we then able to contribute to a greater understanding of the subject,” says Chua, who hopes that this award takes our engagement with food beyond the gracious but superficial “Oh, delicious ….”
When asked what are the judges looking for in the winning entry, she has this to say: “Good writing makes you sit up and take notice. That said, there are a few golden rules, chief among them I would say is doing your own research. Nothing beats original research. If you are going to write a comparison on different Malaysian laksa, eat them all. That’s what Fay would have done – and she would have brought a friend!”
Besides that, the judges are looking for original material that has the ability to convey the writer’s enthusiasm to the reader, authentic experiences, and clear and concise storytelling. Don’t be afraid to be authoritative or informative, and let your voice come through.
Entries can be on any food or drink from anywhere in the world, and any topic that is related to food.
“Perhaps one day we can open this to a wider community of writers, but for now I would like to provide a platform to encourage writers in the region. I would like to see a food writer from the world’s most diverse culinary region rate among the best in the world. Fay would have raised a glass to that, and then insisted on a celebratory bowl of noodles!” says Chua.