The Most Valuable Lesson Nik Michael Imran Learned From His Father

The celebrity chef talks about how cooking wasn’t born out of personal choice but was an inherited skill he picked up from his father, Datuk Nik Ezar Nik Bolia.
Thursday 18 October 2018

This is sponsored content that was produced in conjunction with Standard Chartered.

“I’m very strict in the kitchen. There are rules that cannot be broken. I think that saved us both a lot of mishaps from happening in the kitchen”, jokes Datuk Nik Ezar Nik Bolia. Doing the right thing is important even though it may not be the most popular decision. Nik Ezar believes that this was the most important lesson to be passed down to his son, Nik Michael Imran. This is closely aligned to Standard Chartered’s belief in upholding integrity across generations, always doing the right thing for the communities the Bank operates in.

With his father as a chef, it was only natural that he picked up additional skills and the fundamentals of cooking from his father. “It wasn’t much of a choice but more of an extra chore I had to do at home,” says Imran.

With an experienced chef like Nik Ezar as his mentor, Imran executed perfect three-course meals by the time he was 13. His ‘upgraded’ role in the kitchen allowed Nik Ezar to play host to their dinner guests instead of hiding behind the stove. Leaving his son to take charge of the kitchen was a huge task and Nik Ezar knew his son needed to learn the fundamentals of being a chef.

Imran was taught how to properly handle a knife, how to put things back where he found them and techniques on how to properly pour water. “I didn’t get the luxury of working in a restaurant and getting scolded by head chefs, I had the privilege of having a father ‘torturing’ me at home instead,” laughs Imran.

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Looking sharp: father and son duo Nik Ezar and Nik Michael. Photo: Iskandar Ibrahim

Nik Ezar stumbled into the culinary world in the midst of his university studies in Brisbane, Australia back in the 80s. He worked as a part-time dishwasher at a local restaurant called Top of the State to earn extra pocket money. As fate would have it, a chef at the restaurant didn’t turn up for work on one particular night and Nik Ezar was asked to take over duties of a larder chef. He prepped the oysters and even made apple pie for the venue’s 200 guests.

“I constantly observed what the chefs were doing while I was doing the dishes at the time. I picked up some skills along the way. That particular night the head chef said that he could replace a dishwasher in an instant but a good apprentice isn’t easy to find,” Nik Ezar recalls. While Nik Ezar spent his earlier years working in various kitchens, Imran’s culinary skills were cultivated at home.

Although Imran displayed similar interests in food, it didn’t occur to Nik Ezar that his son’s interest went beyond the realms of home cooking until he came home announcing his participation in Malaysia’s version of Masterchef. Imran was in the midst of completing his final year of college, which would have earned him a degree.

“I would love him to get his degree. He was about to finish that final year but he decided to join the Masterchef competition and from that point of his life, I knew he wasn’t going to complete his studies”, says Nik Ezar.

Nik Ezar eventually relented because according to him, that’s what parents are supposed to do – support their children’s interests. Although Imran didn’t win the coveted title of Malaysia’s first Masterchef, his appearance on the show opened a whole new world of opportunity for him on television.

Astro came calling with a proposition of Imran hosting a cooking show they had planned called Hello, Bro, Tolong Masak. Thirty episodes of the series were filmed over two short weeks with a second season soon to follow.

Along the way, Nik Ezar once again became an integral part of Imran’s culinary journey when the two opened a restaurant together – PickNik. The two decided to suspend operations on the restaurant two years ago and now they continue to run a catering business and have just completed shooting for the second season of their father-son cooking show called Lunch with the Niks.

Imran and Nik Ezar undoubtedly share a special bond that many can relate to. Their passion for food continues to strengthen their relationship as father and son. But does working with one another change the dynamics of their relationship? “As a father, it isn’t easy convincing your children what you want for them is the best but somehow, it works with us. I have two other sons but both of them don’t even like cooking,” Nik Ezar relents.

Running PickNik together allowed Imran to experience the reality of working in a proper restaurant kitchen. “He put me in the deep end because I didn’t have prior professional cooking experience. I was a good cook and knew the fundamentals but I had never ran a restaurant at that point,” says Imran. “There are a couple of things that I picked up that differentiated a cook and a chef. Anyone can be a good cook but to be a chef you also need to learn how to manage your inventory, staff and menu and that’s what he has taught me.”