R.AGE Food Fight champion Nurilkarim Razha’s aim throughout the competition was to promote Malaysian cooking, and his brilliant dish in the final did just that – baked fish with prawn otak-otak mousseline, served with a vibrant ulam pesto and succulent paku salad; all made with local palm oil.

But Nurilkarim, who manages his family’s cafe, the Jawi House Cafe Gallery in Penang, didn’t just use palm oil (the competition’s featured ingredient) for frying, but also as a replacement for olive oil in his pesto, and as part of his paku salad dressing.

“The red palm oil gave my otak-otak a nice orangey-brown colour,” he said. “That aside, what’s really good about palm oil is its neutrality, which allows it to really absorb the flavours in the dish, making it a good flavour carrier.”

Palm oil was selected as the featured ingredient of Food Fight to help educate Malaysians on its many uses and health benefits.

All five finalists – Kelly Siew, Ashley Pan, Ahong Yeang, Li-Anne Kuek and Nurilkarim – spent a month perfecting their palm oil recipes for a shot at the grand prize of RM10,000, an online video series, and a food column in The Star.

Onstage, Nurilkarim was charming and flamboyant, but in the kitchen this professional chef really showed off his cooking chops, duly impressing the judges.

Onstage, Nurilkarim was charming and flamboyant, but in the kitchen this professional chef really showed off his cooking chops, duly impressing the judges.

At the final last Saturday, they all cooked and presented their dishes in front of the judges and a live audience. Nurilkarim’s blend of serious kitchen skills and charming personality bagged him the champion’s apron, with judge Chef Wan calling him “the perfect package”.

The panel of judges included some of the best in the business – Chef Wan, DC Restaurant owner and chef Darren Chin, Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia master chef Rodolphe Onno, performing artiste and chef Tan Chung Liang, and food blogger Kar Yeong of KYspeaks – and they were all wowed by Nurilkarim’s dish.

“It’s a lot more complex than it looks, and involved a lot of cooking techniques,” said Chin. “Not only did he present himself very well, his dish was very well executed.”

But despite the judges’ praise, Nurilkarim is determined to stay focused on his food and new career.

“It’s all beginning to set in, but I won’t celebrate like it’s the end, because this is just the beginning. There is still a long journey ahead of me,” said Nurilkarim, who wants to use his new column and video series to continue promoting Malaysian cooking.

“But my mother is so happy. She wants to hang a ‘Food Fight Champion’ sign on our cafe door!” he added with a laugh.

Keep your eyes peeled for his upcoming online cooking series on rage.com.my and TheStarTV.com, and food column in The Star!

Nurilkarim's winning dish: Baked fish with prawn otak-otak mousseline, with ulam pesto and paku salad.

Nurilkarim’s winning dish: Baked fish with prawn otak-otak mousseline, with ulam pesto and paku salad.

BAKED FISH WITH PRAWN OTAK-OTAK MOUSSELINE, ULAM PESTO AND PAKU SALAD

Serves 4

4x120g red snapper fillet
350g fresh tiger prawns, shelled
300g shallots
80g garlic
50g ginger
50g galangal
3 stalks lemongrass, sliced
50g dried chillies
1 tbsp belacan
50ml red palm oil
1 egg white
5 tbsp tomato paste
150ml coconut cream
200ml palm oil
banana leaf for wrapping
1kg pucuk paku
5ml fish sauce or to taste
50ml lime juice
3 shallots, sliced into rings
1 red chilli, julienned
1 lemongrass, finely sliced
1 pickled bunga kantan, sliced
40g kaduk leaves

Ulam pesto
40g Thai basil
40g lemon basil
40g selom Leaves
1 stalk coriander
50g cashew nuts
1 clove garlic
25g grated parmesan cheese
50ml palm oil or more as needed

Grind the shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, chilli and belacan in a food processor till fine. Fry the paste in red palm oil till fragrant.

When cool, combine chilli paste with shelled prawns, egg white, tomato paste, coconut cream and palm oil, and puree in the food processor till fine. Spread prawn mousse onto fish evenly then wrap in banana leaf. Steam or bake for 5-6 minutes at 165°C.

For ulam pesto

Blanch the herbs for 8 seconds. Squeeze dry and place in spice/coffee grinder along with the cashew nuts, garlic, cheese, and oil. Blend to a smooth paste. Press the mixture through a sieve. Set aside.

Blanch the paku ferns and cool in ice water. Dress ferns with fish sauce, lime juice and some oil and toss with shallot, chilli, lemongrass and pickled bunga kantan.

Chiffonade the kaduk leaves and deep fry till crisp. Use as garnish.