Fusion food genius Susur Lee on his new stint as a judge on MasterChef Asia
MasterChef Asia premiered in India last week with much fanfare. It introduced 15 contestants who’ve been selected to represent eight Asian countries. They will cook and compete under the watchful eyes of three judges, Hong Kong-born culinary genius Susur Lee, 3-Michelin star chef Bruno Ménard and Singapore’s Audra Morrice, a MasterChef Australia finalist.
We believe Lee himself is an important ingredient on the show that intends to celebrate the diversity yet uniqueness of the culinary bowl that Asia is. Referred to as ‘father of fusion food’, Lee brings 30 years of experience in the restaurant business, and expertise in Asian food, to the show. He currently owns two restaurants in Toronto, Lee and Bent (both serve food with modern Asian and international influences). He tells us more about his new stint on TV, rigours of the food business, and his tastes and preferences.
Lee at work
Your earliest memories in food business…
I worked at a prestigious hotel in Hong Kong when I was 17, and all I really did at the beginning was peel potatoes.
Fusion cuisine seems to be every where. How do you keep your menus innovative?
By travelling. I love learning about new cultures and trying new foods. If I come across anything smart or inventive, it catches my attention and inspires me.
Experimenting with food or sticking to the traditional?
I think balance is important in every aspect of life, and kitchen is no exception. It’s important to respect tradition when experimenting.
On TV, the restaurant business seems rather glamorous. Tell us about the reality.
It’s hard work! The hours are long and you’re on your feet in intense heat. In the beginning, I kept my head down and worked hard. I just cooked and learned as much as I could.
What does it take to be a top chef?
Hard work and dedication. I tell every young chef that you have to give up on having a social life for the first year of working in the kitchen. It’s hard work, but it pays off!
A lot has changed since the time when you were learning the ropes. Are you a tough boss in the kitchen?
Times have definitely changed. It’s widely known that earlier chefs used to be hard on their cooks. In my kitchens, I try to balance being the master, and a father figure.
What tempted you to join the MasterChef Asia panel?
It’s a great opportunity for home cooks to challenge themselves, and expand their knowledge of Asian cuisine. Believe it or not, I learned a lot from the contestants too.
When judging a contestant, what are the things you are looking for?
A humble cook is important. But the taste and presentation of food matters the most to me.
What can viewers expect from the inaugural season?
Excitement and great cooking, with a sense of national pride as contestants are also representing their countries.
A word of advice for aspiring chefs.
Suck it up. Sometimes you will feel like today is the worst day and you want to quit, but you just have to bite the bullet, and keep moving.
What is your fondest food memory?
It has to be eating dim sum with my father. He would read the newspaper while I stuffed my face. Sometimes I ate so much food that I’d throw up.
Your top three pantry staples…
Garlic, salt, and any kind of chilli. These are key in elevating flavor, but as in everything, I make sure to use these ingredients in moderation.
And, ultimate comfort food.
The strangest thing you have ever eaten.
Camel meat, in Dubai.
Is there an unsung cuisine that you would like more people to know about?
I’d like people to see and try the more indigenous food of New Zealand.
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on Star World and
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— Team Indulge