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.