Sunday, June 12, 2011

Learn to cook Malaysian food... from Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsay? Um...

I caught a bit of Australian Masterchef this week, in which two contestants won a trip to Malaysia to receive a cooking lesson and introduction to Malaysian food from British celebrity chef Rick Stein.

So what's wrong with that picture?

Rick Stein, of course. No disrespect to the guy, I don't mind his shows, and he has actually championed Malaysian cuisine in Britain in the last couple of years. But it's rather odd that Masterchef would send contestants to Malaysia - where there are presumably a large number of Malaysian chefs - and then present as the Malaysian culinary expert a fellow from England, who only really discovered the cuisine around 2009 as part of his Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey series.

So how did Rick do? Well, he made a serviceable curry laksa, but did several things that were not authentic. Which is not a crime, but if you are going to be shown "the flavours of Malaysia" by an "expert", surely you'd want to experience proper Malaysian food and recipes, right?

No, because Masterchef repeats a well-worn idea in mainstream television that Western audiences can only understand Asian food through a Western interpreter.

Malaysian cuisine seems all the rage in UK celebrity chef circles now, as evidenced by Gordon Ramsay also doing a show in Malaysia. He spends a week observing various aunties making food, and by the end of it is presented as having mastered the cuisine, as he comes second in a nasi lemak-making competition despite apparently not knowing how to use a rice cooker. All that in only one week, Gordon? My, aren't you smart.

Perhaps Gordon is taking his inspiration from Sam Worthington's character in Avatar. White dude parachutes into a foreign land, is bamboozled by their exotic ways, yet in no time manages to beat the natives at their own game. Flirting with their women all the way. You win again, Mighty White Man.
You can watch Ramsay in Malaysia below.

Gordon Ramsay in Malaysia from Joseph Teo on Vimeo.


  1. I know this wasn't the point of the post, but we watched that whole Gordon Ramsey video last night and enjoyed the food displays, even though I agree with you on the whole "beating the natives" thing.

    By the way, hawkers food is typically a male thing, but Gordon seemed to limit his "learning" by only talking to the aunties. Go figure.

  2. ^ Yeah it's interesting to observe, when Gordon meets the two biker/foodies, how much time the camera spends on the woman and not the man.

  3. I know! It's like he was only talking to the woman! Granted she was easy on the eyes, but still.

    I will say that he's an equal opportunity flirt. I don't know what it's like on Australian Masterchef, but on the American version, if a pretty girl is on the fence and begs, Gordy will back her up. Anyone else gets tossed on the hot grill.

    By the way, where does this show come from? Is it Australia? We don't have it here. Gordon curses all the time on American TV, but it always gets bleeped out. I think this is the first time I've actually heard him curse. British people sound so polite when they curse.

  4. Interesting post. I also found it bizarre that it was Ramsey to show us the way when it comes to Malaysian cuisine. Media representations like this reminds me of a concept called Wheel of Tyranny - coined by Junot Diaz, a Dominican writer/activist. The concept is that coloured people form a circle around a hub, that is white people, without direct communication with each other. It implies white people are the sole conduit and that their approval is always sought.
    I think this trend will slowly change with the emergence of China and India. OK, I got off track! Keep up the good work, Cheers.

  5. Have never liked Gordon Ramsey. Abrasive and disrespectful to his hosts. Just observe and listen to his comments whenever he's introduced to someone. he did that in the Vietnam leg of his trip to SE Asia and similarly snarky in Malaysia. Glad he showed the world that he's a buffoon with the rice-cooker.