The elimination of a Malaysian contestant in “MasterChef UK” because the “traditional” dish she prepared did not satisfy judges has sparked fury in at least four countries that have their own versions of it.
Zaleha Kadir Olpin, 48, made Malaysia’s famed nasi lemak, which she served with chicken rendang in the knockout round of the BBC cooking show’s quarter-finals.
For that round, contestants were challenged to prepare dishes they consider significant to themselves, and Olpin chose nasi lemak because it was her “childhood favorite.”
“I used to save my pocket money to buy nasi lemak on Friday and there was a special stall outside our school that used to sell the best nasi lemak for 20 sen, it is very special,” she told Judge John Torode.
Torode then “schooled” the audience about nasi lemak, claiming that the rice should not have too much coconut milk, the sambal should be really hot and the chicken should be “really, really soft and falling apart.”
Olpin presented her dish soon after, but to her shock, the judges were not impressed — and pointed that she got her childhood favorite wrong.
“I like the rendang flavour, there’s a coconut sweetness. However, the chicken skin isn’t crispy. It can’t be eaten and all the sauce is on the skin so I can’t eat it,” Judge Gregg Wallace commented.
Torode added that her decision to put chicken rendang beside nasi lemak was a mistake, saying:
“It hasn’t had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and falling apart. Instead the chicken is just tough and not really flavoursome.”
Olpin’s journey in the reality show ended after that round, but Malaysians have only started criticizing the judges for their “ignorant” comments.
Jahabar Sadiq, a journalist and food writer, told BBC News:
“They clearly weren’t familiar with food from other parts of the world because if they were, they would have had the knowledge to know what real nasi lemak is.”
“Crispy chicken? No. The meat has to be soft and that’s a result of hours of cooking… Many people associate chicken with being fried but there is no craft, no skill. But this is chicken rendang, not KFC so it all boils down to how the chef controls the spices and the flames. The amount of coconut milk is also key.”
Facebook user Sujita Soorian wrote:
“Utter ridiculousness. Crispy chicken rendang? You think this is fish and chips, judges? Don’t be a judge if you don’t know how to judge. Call themselves ‘Chef/Celebrity Chef’ and they only know about their own food from their own culture. Shame on them really. Such limited knowledge on cuisine from around the world. Gordon Ramsay himself knows what is chicken rendang and even made it himself. I bet Ramsay would love to smash a plate of ‘crispy chicken rendang’ on the floor or … on judges’ heads after watching this episode… The Hell’s Kitchen way!!!”
Meanwhile, Sarimah Samad-Imran questioned the logic behind the judges’ demand:
“How to cook chicken rendang with crispy skin but soft and tender inside?”
On top of Malaysians, people from Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei — which have their own versions of chicken rendang — also slammed the judges. According to The Star, one claimed that regardless of origin, there is no such thing as crispy rendang.
The controversy also had politicians weighing in. For one, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak tweeted a photo of chicken rendang, clearly showing that “crispy” is nowhere to be found:
Olpin, who was born in Kuantan City and is now based in Bristol, said that she was “gutted” by her elimination, but nonetheless stands by her recipe.
“Gutted to be eliminated on #masterchefuk but I stand by my traditional way of cooking Nasi Lemak. Will not change it for the world. The memories of my amazing time at MasterChef kitchen will forever stay with me. Thank you so much for all your support and good wishes. As my friend said, ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!’”