Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Adam Liaw Event

MasterChef 2010 winner Adam Liaw visited Shearer's last night to celebrate the release of his first cookbook, Two Asian Kitchens. Adam talked in depth about the process that went into creating the cookbook, gave us some insights into MasterChef, shared his passion for food and cooking, and spoke a little about his future. There were some yummy samples of recipes from Two Asian Kitchens for us to try while he signed books and chatted with his fans.  Here's a brief summary of what Adam said:

He started by saying that food for a cookbook couldn't just be what you eat at the end of the day when you get home. There needs to be a reason why it's there, it can't just be what's seasonal or what's local. For Adam the key ingredient to his book and his cooking is authenticity.

Of course, this raises questions. What is an authentic bolognaise? The first printed recipe? Or the one your Mum used to make? For Adam personally authenticity may come from many places, he was born in Malaysia to an English mother and a Chinese Father and lived in 30 different places in 4 countries before he turned 18.

The food he grew up eating was very varied. But food has its own authenticity. Some regions such as France, Italy or Szechuan have long histories. Combining them, and personal aspects like Australian produce, the places we've visited and the food we grow up with produces a personal history, a personal authenticity. In his book Adam is trying to show the way he thinks about food and the way he cooks. It's half traditional recipes, 'Grandma's recipes' and half modern dishes made for the book. There is an old Confucian proverb which Adam quoted, "To create new things you need to understand the old."


When making a cookbook after you've decided what you're writing, you need to work on making it a reality. Which meant dealing with a whole team of people, including photographers, editors, an assitant chef, an independant food tester, a stylist, plus all the people at Random House. They had to design what the book was to look like, and make sure it had the right balance of Asian and Australian for Adam's liking. He didn't want it to be a traditional Asian cookbook and made sure it had a strong Australian element, he also made sure it was something people would make more than one or two recipes from.

Adam also had to work hard on creating the recipes to suit the book. He couldn't just cook something up and then jot down what he'd done. The work had to be methodical and clinical. It had to be able to be repeated. It also had to look good. The recipes needed to have the right colours in them, the right ingredients. He had to question would this look or taste better with fish rather than red meat? Would you eat this with your fingers? In a bowl? A little bowl? A big bowl?

As well as being precise with the design and look of the dishes, Adam had to be precise with his wording. In a novel the author has the opportunity to use as many words as they need. In a cook book it's narrowed down significantly to a few hundred words per recipe. It's also a lot of hard work to produce a book like Two Asian Kitchens, especially given the short time frame he had to work with. There were 14 hour days involved and he sometimes had to cook over 12 dishes in a single day.


Adam spoke about his plans for a restaurant in Surry Hills, hopefully to open in August. He hopes it will have a casual atmosphere and become a place to have a good meal and get together with friends after work.

 
There was a brief Q&A session.

Where do you get your ingredients from?

80-85% of recipes can be made with ingredients from your local supermarket. Adam wanted to make sure the things necessary for the recipes weren't too hard to get. 95-99% can be made from a combination of an Asian supermarket and your local.

Do you still want to pursue a career in law?
Adam said he liked being a lawyer. But he doesn't have any time for doing that now. He's keeping up with it a little though and is giving a few lectures at UNSW in Media Law.

On MasterChef were you allowed to have a notebook with you or did you have to make everything from memory or instinct?
There were no recipe books on set for MasterChef. Adam and the other contestants would spend their free time memorising things such as the way to make a basic sponge cake.

Food
Four dishes were prepared from Two Asian Kitchens. They were Fire Chicken, Ant's Nest Cake, Green Tea Meringue and Baby Vegetable Crudit├ęs with Red Miso Mayonnaise. Being far too eager to stuff our faces, not a single staff member took photos of the wonderful dishes - which is a great shame. The food was all delicious, the meringue was beautifully soft in the centre and the chicken had a lovely flavour with a little bit of a kick. The Ant's Nest Cake was by far the most popular dish and vanished in seconds. 

Adam was more than happy to mingle, chat and sign books and everyone commented on what an extremely nice guy he is. We look forward to seeing his restaurant open later this year, and we're also sure that he'll have plenty of customers.

Autographed copies of Two Asian Kitchens are available now from Shearer's Bookshop

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