Former MasterChef Malaysia Judge Reacts to Crispy Rendang

"I would have bloody Googled it first," says Chef Adu Amran, who insists that traditional rendang can't be crispy
Wednesday 4 April 2018
MasterChef UK judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Photo: MasterChef UK

Criticism from MasterChef UK judges on a Malaysian-born contestant’s nasi lemak ayam rendang has set rendang lovers on full backlash mode.

Former MasterChef Malaysia judge Adu Amran is one of many who are upset about how Zaleha Kadir Olpin was eliminated from the cooking competition show after her chicken rendang was criticised for not being crispy.

“Rendang cannot be crispy!” Chef Adu told UNRESERVED exclusively on the phone today. “If I didn’t know anything about a particular dish, I would have bloody Googled it first.”

After trying Zaleha’s dish in the quarterfinals stage, MasterChef UK judge Gregg Wallace praised her for the flavours, but didn’t like that the skin wasn’t crispy.

“The chicken skin isn’t crispy,” Wallace said, as seen in a YouTube clip of the episode. “It can’t be eaten, but all the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat.”

zaleha-rendang - rendang
Zaleha’s nasi lemak with chicken rendang. Screenshot from YouTube

Perhaps his fellow judge, John Torode could have piped in with how he’s had experience cooking chicken rendang right here in Malaysia – it definitely was not crispy then. Instead, he commented on how Zaleha’s chicken wasn’t fall-off-the-bone.

MasterChef UK defended its judges’ comments on Tuesday, saying that Gregg Wallace was not suggesting that rendang “should traditionally have crispy skin” but that he was criticising it for not enabling him to “experience the flavours of the dish as it was presented.”

“Their comments were lazy and arrogant,” Adu told UNRESERVED. “They should have just apologised. It was very unprofessional for them to have brushed it off like that.”

Adu, who is a professional chef and owns local restaurant The Canteen, put it all down to science.

“Chicken rendang does have to be soft, but it doesn’t have to be fall-off-the-bone,” he explained. “For me, if chicken falls off the bone, it’s overcooked. Crispy chicken can only be achieved by deep-frying or oven-baking. It needs oil and fat. But when cooking rendang, once you put any form of moisture on the chicken, it won’t be crispy. It’s simple science!”

While Wallace was noticeably quiet on social media, Torode had taken to Twitter to respond to demands that they respect the classic Malaysian dish.

“Thank you so much for your input,” Torode wrote in one post. “We could of course argue as to it’s origin and wether chicken is classic or an adaptation [sic].”

In other tweets – and these were particularly offensive to Malaysians and their neighbours – he wrote, “Maybe rendang is Indonesian!” and “I mean with Indians, Malaya’s [sic], Chinese altogether there are so many blurred lines but thanks anyway.”

It also didn’t help that he ended his tweets with “namaste,” a greeting in Hindu custom used in India. After receiving a tirade of comments, Torode later deleted all his tweets about the issue.

torode-tweet-namaste - rendang
Screenshot from Twitter

Ironically, local burger joint myBurgerLab makes a Nasi Lemak Ayam Rendang burger, which has fried chicken patty topped with rendang paste.

“All we can say is that only we Malaysians can bastardise our own dish,” myBurgerLab co-founder Ren Yi told UNRESERVED. “If you ain’t from here, you ain’t got a say in what is and what isn’t.”

The burger joint took it all in stride on Twitter: “We got the right Chicken Rendang for you. No rice, 100% Fried Chicken with Rendang Sauce topping. Can we be on MasterChef now?”

Malaysian chefs Sherson Lian and Chef Wan also responded to the debate.

Lian had a mic-drop response: “A rendang with crispy chicken skin? It’s like saying why porridge is not al dente.”

“I honestly cannot stand this kind of attitude of being arrogant in a chef,” Chef Wan wrote on Instagram. “For a chef who [has] visited our country and seen all this Rendang dishes being made I am shocked he didn’t get that simple lesson! [sic]”

Even Vicki Treadell, British High Commissioner to Malaysia, defended chicken rendang as we know it.

“Rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish not to be confused with Indonesian options,” she tweeted. “It can be chicken, lamb or beef. It is never crispy & should also not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak.”

KFC, purveyor of finger-licking-good fried chicken, was quick to note, “The only thing that should be crispy is our fried chicken.”

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Photo: KFC

TGV Cinemas also found a way to hit back at the debacle: “Certain things aren’t meant to be crispy. Luckily our popcorn chicken is.”

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Photo: TGV Cinemas

And blessed be, rendang is something both current and former Malaysian prime ministers, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad can agree on.

Meanwhile, Zaleha isn’t letting her elimination get the better of her. “So proud to have served this and will keep cooking the way my family loves them,” she wrote about her rendang dish on Instagram. “No changing to a traditional nations [sic] favourite.”

Now, excuse us while we indulge in a plate of nasi lemak served with glorious, uncrispy chicken rendang.

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