Malaysians and food is an undeniable combo. Decades of recipes infused with countless herbs and spices that are passed down from generation to generation have truly made Malaysian cuisine enter a league of its own.
So when we heard that a Malaysian managed to impress the judges from one of the most competitive cooking competitions in the world, we jumped at the opportunity to speak to her.
Sarah Tiong is one of the top 24 contestants in the latest MasterChef Australia Season 9
and she owes much of her success in the competition to her Malaysian roots.
The 26-year-old was born and raised in Sydney but her parents hail from Sibu, Sarawak.
Growing up in a Chinese household with East Malaysian influences, food was very much a part of Tiong’s world, especially her mother’s cooking.
“My love for food definitely came from my mom. My mom is the best cook in the world and she’s completely self-taught. It’s amazing to see how she could provide the family with such beautiful food, and I definitely grew to love and respect that,” she shared during a phone interview with Rojak Daily
Tiong first realised her talent in cooking when she was about 15 years old.
“That was when I started helping my mom more with different dishes like chicken wings, steak and pasta. And surprisingly, our family friends, aunts and uncles would comment that it was really good food,” she said.
The first dish that she actually experimented with was scrambled eggs – one that her mother, a.k.a. the executive chef of the family, trusted her to make from start to finish.
“I know it sounds really weird but my mom is so particular about it. Even now, she says I don’t do it as good as she does,” she laughed.
So far, it sounds like Tiong’s cooking is leaning more towards the Western world. What about her Asian cuisine and Malaysian heritage?
Rest assured, she loves both Western and Asian food. But she believes she also has a knack for Asian cuisine because she is always learning about Chinese food from her mother.
“I always had the basic Chinese cooking skills because that’s what my family loves to eat every night,” Tiong shared.
“My favourite cuisine of all-time is obviously Malaysian-Chinese food and also Japanese food. I love the techniques and the history. It’s so incredible!” she added.
And apparently, she makes a mean roast pork! The crackling skin and soft tender meat. Oh… we’re drooling just thinking about it.
True to the MasterChef
fashion, most of the contestants are home cooks who don’t have professional careers in the culinary scene. This is the same case for Tiong.
She works as a risk consultant with skills in actuarial science and law, something that is a total opposite to cooking.
So when she first submitted her application to the show after much coaxing from her close friends, she did so without much thought.
And then she got in.
The biggest challenge for Tiong was not just the fact that she has to compete with 23 other home cooks in the most intense cooking competition and have the whole world watching you while doing that, it’s also the fact that she has a health condition that could make or break her culinary career.
She is an insulin-dependent diabetic.
“Which means I’ve got to be very careful. The smallest bit of sugar or the smallest bit of carbohydrate can really knock my blood sugar out of balance. So it’s important that I’m always testing my blood sugar levels,” she shared.
She also has to constantly take insulin injections to make sure that she is in the best condition, not just for the competition, but on a day-to-day basis as well.
No doubt, being an insulin-dependent diabetic would pose as big obstacle in a cooking competition, especially when it comes to tasting food.
But in no way has Tiong let her condition affect her food or performance in the show.
“In no way have I reduced the sugar or made adjustments in my food. I’ve made my food as how I would feed it to the general public.
“I treat my diabetes as a very personal thing and I treat it as something I’m in control of. It doesn’t control my life, I control it,” she said.
Tiong’s determination and passion in cooking has definitely made her one of the favourites in the new season.
If you want to watch our fellow Malaysian in action and see if she made any of your favourite Malaysian dish on the show, tune in to the first episode of MasterChef Australia Season 9 on 19 June at 8pm and 11pm (encore) on Lifetime (Astro Ch 709)