The Watch List: Anis Nabilah

Find out how this celebrity chef started her culinary career.
Tuesday 24 March 2020
Doing what she does best.

After polishing her cooking skills and graduating from the Food Institute of Malaysia, Anis Nabilah got her big break when she made her debut in the massively popular cooking show Icip Icip in 2007.

Today, she is one of the most well-known TV chefs in Malaysia and has a growing fan base in Singapore. Anis tells us how her passion for cooking came about and the recent project she’s proud of.

What is your earliest memory of cooking? 

I come from a very big family. I’m the middle child of seven girls and one boy, so it was sort of a natural thing. My mum was a working mum who enjoyed cooking and I remember she would come back home in the evening and spend time with us. So she’d get everyone in the kitchen while she cooked dinner and we would help her with whatever we could. She would encourage us to be part of the dinner-making process.

How did this passion come about? 

Whenever my mum made a marble cake, it wasn’t just two colours. The cake came with seven colours even though there was no such thing as a rainbow cake back then. She would give each of us a bowl filled with colouring to spoon into the cake pan and it turned out looking ridiculous.

My dad was scared to eat it because there were too many colours! But that was how we grew up and the passion sort of developed from there. I can safely say that all my siblings enjoy cooking but no one actually took it seriously. I did it, because my mum sort of pushed me to do it.

How did you get your big break? 

I was asked to attend an audition for a TV show and because it was for a local TV network, I was required to speak in Malay. Obviously I am Malay and I can speak the language just fine but when it comes to presenting on air, it wasn’t that easy. At that time everyone on TV was so prim and proper and I remember struggling at first.

I started speaking in my Northern accent because my mum and my grandparents are from Penang and I was really close to them growing up. Then, two months after the audition, I got a call that said I got the role. The show was Icip Icip, which aired 13 years ago and it was bought by Asian Food Channel. It was the first Malaysian show that was acquired by the channel and I became the youngest person to be on the Asian Food Channel.

What were some of the challenges you faced? 

At that age there were a lot of challenges. In a way, I am very grateful that I started when I did but at the same time, I realise now that it was a scary experience because I felt like I did not have enough experience. I remember really trying my best. It was an amazing experience, I would never trade it for the world.

But there were also memories of some tough times such as people doubting me. I really didn’t have enough experience at that time but I went for it anyway. I didn’t let anyone’s words put me down. I remember just telling myself, as long as you can do it, you just do it and I did it. I just kept going.

What do you love most about your job? 

I love everything about my job. I have hosted almost 50 shows now and the recent one I did, The Lost Food, is related to food, but it’s not a cooking show. It’s about spreading awareness on food waste and I volunteered at the soup kitchens. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this show.

I learned so much from it and it’s just sad to see other people’s struggles and to see the amount of food we waste. It’s been a passion of mine to educate people on food waste. As a chef, I value food and to watch so much of it go to waste, it’s a shame. So to be able to do such a show was an honour for me.

This is an exceprt from UNRESERVED’s March Issue from the article The Watch List: Anis Nabilah