The last few years have been pretty hectic for Datuk Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan. He travelled the world promoting his work, spearheaded new projects at home and crafted ideas for his upcoming television show.
But that is not all. Chef Wan also did something else during that busy period – he put on a lot of weight.
“I couldn’t even spruce up my garden at home without breaking into buckets of sweat,” he laments.
As much as he wants to blame his erratic schedule for his weight woes, Chef Wan knows that the onus is on him to care for his well-being.
Besides, the popular chef and cookshow host doesn’t have to look far for a reminder to eat better.
“My late father was diabetic and lost a leg due to the disease. He then had a stroke and passed away in 2012. I don’t want to suffer the same fate as him,” he says.
Chef Wan knows that he has to get his act sorted and thus he has begun his journey to better health from where he is the most comfortable – the kitchen.
So does that mean no more santan – which has about 35 calories in a tablespoon (15g) – in rendang, nasi lemak, sweet desserts and kuih for Chef Wan?
According to him, that is a big, fat yes.
That is quite rich, given that Chef Wan made his name, and wealth, making and promoting exactly those mouth-watering and fattening food items on his television series and cookbooks all these years.
“I know that those are the types of food that I created and promoted. But I have gotten older, and I have to start thinking about my health. I have come to that age. As a chef, I understand my responsibility to promote healthy eating habits, and it starts with me.”
Chef Wan also calls out on folks who dismiss healthy eating simply because it is pricier.
“Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Unless you have a garden at home that grows all the vegetables you want, or a farm that gives you fresh milk every morning, you cannot escape having to spend a bit more to eat healthy nowadays.”
“It is better to pay now for your health, than later (for your medical bills) when you are bed-ridden and feeling awful. Be wise with your eating habits, it will help prolong your life.”
Chef Wan says that while one can control what goes into their food at home, the same discipline sometimes cannot be maintained outside. He says that we are surrounded by calorie-laden, sweet, oily and unhealthy food all the time.
“Even when you tell the waiters that you want your drinks less sweet or your food less oily, they still somehow come out sweet and oily. You cannot always dictate how the cook prepares your food and what goes into it,” he says.
“I am not saying that you should totally cut out local fare. But it is important that if you decide to eat healthy, there are places for you to do so,” he explains.
So when BMS Organics came knocking with a new collaboration, Chef Wan knew that it was an opportunity not to be missed. This was his chance to show consumers that food, even local favourites like nasi lemak and curry laksa can be prepared the healthy way and be easily available.
BMS Organics is a leading organic health food proponent and supplier with 43 outlets around the country. Nineteen of these outlets are equipped with adjoining cafes that serve food made in a healthy manner.
With Chef Wan on board, healthy becomes delicious as well. The company approached the chef to collaborate with their kitchen to create dishes that would be both tasty and beneficial.
“Healthy food has a negative connotation; the perception is that it can never taste as good as ‘normal’ food. My honest belief is that it all depends on how you prepare the food. Of course it is going to taste different but it definitely is the healthier option,” says Chef Wan.
He gives a healthy twist to three local favourites on BMS Organics’ menu by substituting some of the original ingredients with organic products.
“I use organic soy milk instead of coconut milk (soy is 55 calories per 100ml compared to coconut’s 230 calories) for the curry laksa, extra virgin coconut oil for the food, and pineapples to give a natural sweet and sour taste in the dishes.
“There are many changes that one can make to the dishes to make them healthier when cooking at home. You just have to be creative to come up with as many substitutes as possible,” he adds.
Chef Wan suggests using Himalayan rock salt instead of the normal salt, brown rice, millet or buckwheat to substitute for rice, and adding lots of fresh herbs to the food.
“The dishes I have prepared for BMS Organics are meat-free but you can always add meat to any of the dishes if you wish,” he says.He working on creating more healthy dishes for BMS Organics and is already incorporating his newfound ideology in his daily life.
“I really want to turn my style of cooking around. I know that I was guilty of using lots of santan and sugar in my recipes before, but it is never too late to amend my cooking and eating habits. It’s the same for you.”
And with a big smile, he adds, “I have been taking care of myself recently and look at me, can you tell that I am 59? I don’t think so.”
The following recipes are shared by Chef Wan who cooks them using organic vegetables and products. For organic soy milk powder, he uses O’Soy Plus sugar-free or low sugar, for seasoning powder, G S seasoning powder and TSP vegetarian soy fish.
160ml organic soy bean vegetarian soup
natural sea salt, to taste
Wet paste (blend and fry until fragrant)
150g laksa leaves (kesom)
60g galangal (lengkuas)
2 stalks torch ginger flower (bunga kantan)
10 stalks lemongrass (serai)
40g turmeric (kunyit)
4 seaweed squares
1 red chilli
100ml grapeseed oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tomato, mashed
200g pineapple, sliced and mashed
75g brown rice vermicelli
6 slices vegetarian (soy) fish
30g lettuce, shredded
30g cucumber, shredded
30g pineapple, shredded
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cili padi, sliced
Boil the vegetarian soup in a large pot on medium heat. Add salt to taste and the wet paste, vinegar, tomato, and pineapple. Simmer on medium heat until aromatic.
Meanwhile, scald the vermicelli in boiling water until cooked. Drain well.
Place some vermicelli in a bowl. Top with soy fish slices and ladle piping hot laksa broth over to cover noodles completely. Garnish as desired and serve immediately.
NASI LEMAK WITH SOY CHICKEN RENDANG
200ml grapeseed oil
80g dried chilli paste (cili boh)
200g soy milk powder
1 star anise
20g curry leaves
6 stalks lemongrass, lightly bruised
300g vegetarian (soy) chicken, cubed
1/2 tbsp seasoning powder
natural salt, to taste
Wet paste (blended together)
600g galangal, sliced
100g turmeric, sliced
20g ginger, sliced
150g candlenut, roughly chopped
40g coriander seeds
3 cups brown rice
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup buckwheat
20g ginger, sliced
1 tsp natural rock salt
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
4 1/2 cups water
3 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
shreds of carrot, cabbage, lettuce etc
fried papadum or crackers
To prepare rendang
Heat grapeseed oil in a wok on medium heat. Fry the chilli paste until fragrant. Add the wet paste and continue to fry until aromatic.
Meanwhile, dissolve the soy milk powder in the water.
When the spice paste is ready, pour the soy milk into the wok. Add star anise, cinnamon, curry leaves and lemongrass. Add the vegetarian soy chicken. Season with salt and seasoning powder.
To prepare rice
Wash the rice, millet and buckwheat. Cook all the ingredients in a rice cooker. When cooked, fluff the rice with chopsticks or a fork and set aside, covered, for another 10-15 minutes before serving.
Serve portions of rice with the rendang and garnish as desired.
ORGANIC SOY MILK CURRY LAKSA
Making the broth from soy milk powder provides convenience, but you can replace the soy milk powder and water with 4.3 litres of unsweetened soy milk, preferably homemade from organic soy beans.
3.5 litres water
800g soy milk powder
12 stalks lemongrass, bruised
30g curry leaves
37g natural rock salt
20g organic seasoning powder (optional)
Wet paste (blend and fry until fragrant)
300g onion, sliced
300g galangal, sliced
100g dried chilli paste (cili boh)
50g turmeric, sliced
50g candlenuts, roughly crushed
20g coriander seeds
10g ginger, sliced
150ml grapeseed oil
750g brown rice vermicelli
cooked lady’s fingers
cooked brinjal, cut into batons
cooked potato, cubed
cooked or raw long beans, cut into 3cm lengths
tofu puffs, halved
fried bean curd sheets
sprouts (soy bean, pea, etc)
herbs (mint, basil, etc)
Heat the water in a stock pot or casserole pan to just warm it. Stir in the soy powder until dissolved completely. Bring to a low boil on medium heat.Add the lemongrass, curry leaves, salt and seasoning powder. Bring to boil. Add the wet paste and stir well. Allow to simmer over medium low heat for about 10 minutes.
Scald the vermicelli in boiling water until cooked. Drain well.
Place some vermicelli in a bowl. Top with your choice of garnishing. Ladle piping hot laksa broth over to cover the noodles completely and serve immediately.