by Kat Ngoi
Review Two Asian Kitchens – Adam Liaw
Adam Liaw was the Walt Disney media lawyer who loved to cook and now lives the dream of having it all: an SBS TV cooking and travel program, ‘Destination Flavour’ after being crowned Masterchef champion in 2010, three successful cookbooks to date, a regular column on Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia, UNICEF’s National Ambassador for Nutrition—all this while raising his toddler son with his Japanese wife in Sydney.
His best-selling first cookbook, Two Asian Kitchens, published after his Masterchef win, is a culinary tribute to his exotic ancestry and roots— a Chinese dad from Malaysia, an English mum of French-Indonesian descent who was born in Singapore. That’s not all. He was raised on the best Chinese and Malaysian fodder whipped up by his grandmother when he was a hungry young boy—hence his eclectic appetite and culinary style.
Two Asian Kitchens represent Adam’s hybrid food culture influences, consisting of The Old Kitchen with traditional recipes from his personal heritage and past, while the New Kitchen is a celebration of the time-honoured flavours, techniques and experiences by way of his new concoctions and creative experimentation. While the Asian influences are predominant in The New Kitchen dishes, Adam urges us in the Foreword section, not to take the probable stance of viewing any of The New Kitchen recipes as pertaining to Chinese, Japanese or Asian in general. Instead, we’re to appreciate these dishes as ‘uniquely Australian’, speaking from his personal experience as an Asian migrant in Australia.
I can’t think of a cookbook I last picked up that excited or inspired me the same way as Two Kitchens has, what with the shared experience I identify with as a migrant myself from Southeast Asia. It’s a wonderful time to be an Asian migrant living in Australia, with generous access to Asian grocers from the nooks of our suburbs to our bustling cities. It is a privilege to be living miles away from where we were born and raised yet still be able to replicate the food we grew up with especially that which forms the Asian migrant’s staple dishes. Most crucially is the blessing of being able to reproduce these old favourites with the high quality of raw, fresh, native regional produce from the riches of our Australian soil, oceans and fauna.
Within the recipes of The Old Kitchen, I found great comfort in so many of the traditional home dishes I am familiar with and cook at home often—Hainanese Chicken Rice, Beef Rending, Nasi Lemak, Fish Head Curry and Char Siew Pork and Pho. Those who know me would know I have a sweet tooth especially for traditional Nyonya desserts. I was astonished in a pleasant way to see both ‘Nine-layer kuih’ and ‘kaya toast’ included in Adam’s traditional repertoire. Throw traditional Japanese snacks like Yakitori Moriawase and Thai food lovers— Thai style Larb duck, and we are sold.
The New Kitchen continues to tempt our rumbling tummies with surprising takes on the old tossed with the new like ‘Laksa Fried Chicken’, something I can’t wait to lower into a hot smoking wok of oil just to see it crisp up with that incredible savoury spicy aroma wafting. I’ll pair it with my Nasi Lemak for a new twist. For the Aussie in us, a great plate of fish and chips could always be better and probably benefit from Adam’s fancy creation on an old favourite—Tempura Fish and Chips with Pickled Chilli Mandarin Curd. The recipe for the spicy citrusy curd does sound more upbeat than the usual tartare or mayo on the side.
Others sound equally delightful like Toufu and Camembert Skewers With Dengaku Miso which Adam recommends pairing with eggplant. For new dessert concoctions there’s Sugar Cane Ice-cream which looks surprisingly light and easy. The glossy photos certainly fire up the imagination with examples of how to end a fusion meal well—I could almost smell the lovely perfume of lemongrass fused with tropical sweet rambutan in Evaporated Milk Bavarois With Lemongrass & Rambutan Sorbet. Need more ideas for a grand Asian East meets West dessert? Adam has made a simple English dessert of fruit puree folded through whipped cream delightful with added green tea meringue—Green Tea Meringue & Mandarin Fool. Sounds like a gem for my next dinner party.
My tastebuds are gearing up for tasting and rating the Two Kitchens further once I put the recipes to the test with the traditional classics being updated in Adam’s glam creations. Just one taste and I might be forever inspired to change my tune in the kitchen—to intersperse old kitchen and new kitchen food, techniques and experiences into one of a climatic gastronomical symphony.
Two Asian Kitchens, Adam Liaw, Random House, 238 pages Release Date: 01/08/2012
This is not a paid or sponsored review; neither has a copy of ‘Two Asian Kitchens’ been received by the reviewer as a sponsored gift or payment for this review.
If you wish to contact Kat Ngoi for book reviews, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org