“GUTTED,” MasterChef UK contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin was heard saying as she pulled the apron over her head and cleared her locker after being announced that she was to leave the knockout rounds in the quarter finals.
Her frustration was etched on her face, obvious in her voice and echoed by her social media followers when judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace, who had raved about her dishes that saw her to the quarter finals, didn’t quite take to her chicken 'rendang'.
“The skin wasn’t crispy”, “the meat didn’t fall off the bone” – those were the main sore points.
People who had just watched the BBC1 programme at that point would have been forgiven if they thought the judges were talking about another dish.
This adjective had resonated throughout social media where fans of Zaleha expressed their dissatisfaction.
“Rendang with crispy chicken skin? Never heard of such a thing,” said one on Twitter.
“Seriously, chicken rendang shouldn’t fall from the bones, only beef rendang does and chicken skin can never be crispy if cooked in a sauce,” complained another.
“The nation is angry now and what an insult to our favourite dish,” fumed another.
I watched the elimination rounds where the 48-year-old former accountant who now lives in Bristol, made the 'nasi lemak' – a family favourite as dictated by the judges for that round.
The ‘nasi lemak’ as presented by the mother of two who acquired her culinary skills from her mother and family who had restaurants and had had years of catering business experience, had every traditional element on the plate, including the now much maligned chicken rendang.
Shouldn’t the rendang be on the same plate?
Being away for so long, I even doubted myself and started googling “nasi lemak with chicken rendang”.
True enough, there were lots of images of nasi lemak WITH chicken rendang sitting ON the plate, skin not crispy and flesh not off the bones.
Joining in the heated discussion was Malaysian celebrity chef Datuk Redzuawan Ismail, or better known as Chef Wan, who had watched the show on Youtube.
Without mincing words, he said to me, “What rubbish is he talking about? This is not duck a la orange or confit de canard; the way French cook their duck!
“A chicken rendang is basically a stew rendered with all our fresh Asian spices and herbs in coconut milk. And wanting the chicken skin crispy?
“This recipe is not grilled or pan fried. It is like telling a French chef, why your coq au vin, chicken cooked in red wine, not having crispy skin.
“Obviously he does not know what he is taking about. We cook it the Malaysian rendang way!”
By now, there’s no stopping the celebrity chef, when he detected that something was amiss. The chicken rendang debacle had got him going.
“Stewing and braising dishes as in any culture would not result in the skin being crispy unless there are load of fats under the skin like the duck.
“Yes, John did voice his opinion right as the chicken needed to be rendered a bit more for it to be much softer but not till fell apart!
“That is over cooking the chicken rendang! Go understand how to cook a traditional rendang and tell him I challenge him and see if he gets his skin crispy,” said the Malaysian chef.
Other Malaysian chefs who had watched that particular episode were also left feeling rather shocked.
Sharizah Hashim of Dapur London, said “I don’t think it is a fair comment at all.
“What he was expecting was probably a pimped up version of chicken rendang. Perhaps chicken skin removed, fat completely rendered down, and then deep fry and put on top for garnishing just to give texture, I suppose.
“For us ‘traditional cooks, it is always substance over form. Always taste before anything else. Of course it has to be appealing to the eyes first, as that would whet the appetite.
“But we wouldn’t want to ‘taint’ the sanctity of the traditional art of making rendang.
“I would definitely make it the way Zaleha did. Soggy skin and all. Or maybe remove the skin,” added Sharizah.
Zaleha who told her fans in her tweets and Instagram that she had had a wonderful experience while it lasted being a MasterChef contestant also said that she was adamant to cook her rendang her way.
She was grateful that her fans stood by her.
Defending her Chicken Rendang, she said in her Instagram, “My Nasi Lemak dish on MasterChef last night. So proud to have served this and will keep cooking the way my family loves them. No changing to a traditional nation’s favourite.”
After a week, Zaleha now has no time to lament over this debacle. She is busy with her Malaysian Kitchen supper club which has been sold out days after being announced.
She is putting together her cookery book and vows to keep on cooking the traditional way.