The Malaysian love of food – and a deep-rooted love of the country’s cuisine itself – runs in the veins of the latest MasterChef Australia winner, Diana Chan. She took the title in mid-July, to much enthusiastic applause from fellow Malaysians and Australians alike.
Her entire journey on the competitive cooking show was significantly signposted by the flavours and ingredients of her home country. She spiked steamed coral perch with spicy tamarind and emperor fish with sambal sauce, cooked fragrant oatmeal prawns, and served morsels of deep-fried barramundi on betel leaves with glutinous rice and palm sugar sauce.
“My Malaysian heritage has played such a big part in moulding my cooking style,” she said, in an interview earlier this year. The bona fide foodie has a long list of gastro-loves – beef rendang, asam laksa, satay, ikan bakar, wantan mee.
And in addition to visiting family and friends, food is a large reason she returns home almost every year.
An accountant before her win, Chan, 29, moved to Melbourne when she was 19. She was born in Sitiawan, Perak, and grew up in Johor Baru.
Her parents provided much of her kitchen inspiration, with her mother’s kitchen roots in the labour-intensive, intricate and flavour-forward richness of Peranakan cuisine, and her father’s in Cantonese dishes, and produce-centric outdoor cooking.
Her initial journey to Melbourne also led to a discovery of the fresh produce at farmers’ markets that would spur her on to the culinary track she is now enjoying. With a style that combines her love of Asian food traditions, familiarity with Asian herbs and a penchant for seafood in particular, Chan has found that food is the new focus of her life.
“I was an accountant with a 9 to 5 job but nowadays, I can jump out of bed and do menu planning, or have a cooking demo or a photoshoot, or do some recipe testing.”
The ambitious nature that drove her as an accountant has a new target now, and Chan is determined to build her brand and spread her food philosophy, which is all about local, sustainably sourced and fresh produce, and flavours which fuse and bridge cultures.
Chan is also determined to champion Malaysian food itself around the globe.
“I really want to promote Malaysia via its food and culture, so I’m looking at a food and travel show, a cookbook, and doing some pop-ups in both Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur,” she said.
As such, her initial plans for a brick-and-mortar restaurant will be slightly delayed.With her love for Malaysian food and a definitive go-getter attitude, it’s clear that Chan’s MasterChef Australia win was really just the starting point in the blazing upward trajectory of a star.