'I’m probably the laziest cookbook writer going around, in that I just put the food I eat normally into my cookbooks, and cook from them as well,' says former lawyer, Adam Liaw. The popular television presenter, bestselling cookbook author, MasterChef Australia winner, Wall Street Journal columnist, and UNICEF Australia's National Ambassador for Nutrition has remained ever so humble despite his huge success. To my mind, it's that quality, as well as his inspired cooking, that makes him so very likeable!
Adam's third cookbook, Adam's Big Pot, was published late last year. Once again, he demonstrates a practical yet creative approach to family cooking. The recipes in Adam's Big Pot are simple enough for the novice cook, affordable enough to feed the whole family, and can be made from basic supermarket ingredients. Among the recipes are classics such as shaking beef, mee goreng and lamb vindaloo. There are also some brilliant new dishes, such as tiger-skin chicken, snapper rice and Japanese soufflé cheesecake. I had the opportunity to catch up with Adam recently. Our conversation follows below:
Hello Adam, thanks for taking the time to catch up with me. Seeing you on television, in the print media and now with another brilliant cookbook, I can imagine how busy you must be.
Thanks, Liz. It’s certainly been a busy year.
Congratulations on your achievements!... and may I add that they are well deserved. You have such a charming, humble and gracious way about you.
What has been the most exciting part of this post MasterChef journey for you?
I love the variety in what I do, which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy what I did before MasterChef, but I think with most office jobs things can get a bit same-y. With what I do now, I might be testing for a cookbook one month and making a TV series the next, then writing columns for newspapers after that. I can’t really get bored when my work each day is so different.
Tell me a little about your work with UNICEF please.
I work with UNICEF as their National Ambassador for Nutrition. I try to help them communicate and explain the work they do to help children around the world. Recently I visited a number of UNICEF facilities in Myanmar to see the effect of UNICEF fundraising initiatives like the Change For Good program, run in conjunction with Qantas. It was a life-changing trip. If you like, you can read a little about it here.
In Two Asian Kitchens you wrote about eating your way around the world: the Hainanese chicken rice from your father (which I know from previous discussions is your all-time favourite), your grandmother’s Chinese and Malaysian classics, and dishes from your mother’s Singaporean childhood. Tell me, what is your earliest food memory?
I think it was probably making gulab jamun (an Indian sweet of fried milk balls in syrup) with my mum when I was 5 or 6. It has always been one of my favourite desserts and I just remember being completely fascinated by the process of making it. It seems silly now but at the time it was as amazing to me as going to Disneyland or landing a rocket on the moon.
There is a touching dedication to your son, Christopher, (and your grandmother) in the book. Is Christopher as fond of food as his dad?
Absolutely. He’s got a huge appetite and he definitely likes good food. I cook for him three times a day.
Does your heart or your appetite lean towards a particular Asian cuisine?
Both. I cook all kinds of cuisines but I would say that most of the time my preference is for Asian food. It didn’t always used to be the case. I’ve cooked Asian food all my life but when I was in my late teens and early twenties I cooked pretty much exclusively Western food. I guess I just wanted to try something different. Now that I’m older, however, I think I’ve come back to the food I’ve always loved – both in terms of what I love to eat and also what I love to cook.
There are some delicious recipes in the book and I’m keen to cook many of them. Recently I made your Mongolian Lamb and it’s a keeper! Tell me what inspired this book?
I think Asian food is incredibly practical, but in Australia we tend to approach it as special occasion food. Maybe it’s because many of us grow up only eating it when we go out to restaurants. This book is really just showing people that to me Asian food is practical, family food.
Is there a recipe you’d like to share with my readers?
I think now that the weather is getting warmer, one of the best light family meals you can make is a big Thai chicken larb. The version from Adam’s Big Pot is a great one, and very simple to make. The home economist that worked on the book said it was the best larb she’d ever had. (Recipe appears below).
What’s on the agenda for you in 2015, if you are allowed to share?
There’s a lot of really exciting things in the pipeline for 2015 and I’ve been rushed off my feet trying to prepare for it all. I have another book on the way and we’re now working on another series of Destination Flavour. This time we’re heading to Scandinavia and it’s going to be amazing. There’s a couple more things that I would love to tell you about but I can’t really let on yet. I’ll announce them soon, though, so stay tuned.
And finally, what’s for dinner tonight?
There was some big Christmas feasting in December and since then we’ve been eating quite light meals. Tonight, it’s Vietnamese chicken salad from Asian After Work. I’m probably the laziest cookbook writer going around, in that I just put the food I eat normally into my cookbooks, and cook from them as well!
Many thanks, Adam!
My pleasure, Liz.
Take a moment to meet Adam Liaw...
(Recipe appears courtesy Adam Liaw and Hachette Australia)
2 tablespoons uncooked white or brown rice
1 teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon chilli flakes, or to taste
1kg chicken mince
1/2 cup fish sauce
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
1 red onion, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 cup mint, loosely packed
2 cups coriander, loosely packed
leaves of 1 baby cos lettuce, to serve
2 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled in intervals and thinly sliced, to serve
2 cups green beans, trimmed, to serve
sliced bird's eye chillies, to serve
Place the uncooked rice in a dry frypan and heat over medium heat, tossing occasionally for about two minutes until white rice begins to turn chalky white and light brown around the edges. If using brown rice, it will begin to brown and smell nutty and toasted. Add the chilli powder and flakes and toss in the pan for a further 30 seconds until the chilli is fragrant. Transfer the rice and chilli to a mortar and pestle and grind to a coarse powder.
Place the chicken in a large frypan over high heat, together with 1/2 cup water and cook, breaking up and stirring regularly, for about 8 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid has evaporated. Transfer to a large bowl and pour over the fish sauce and caster sugar, and stir through. Allow the chicken to cool until it stops steaming, and add the lime juice, red onion, spring onion, mint, coriander, and the rice and chilli powder mixture. Toss to coat well and serve with the raw vegetables on the side. Serves 4-6.
Adam's Big Pot by Adam Liaw, $39.99, is published by Hachette Australia. An E-Book is also available for $19.99. Thank you kindly to Hachette Australia and again to Adam for giving me the opportunity for this catch up and preview.
Tell me dear readers and fellow cooks, are you a huge fan of Adam Liaw too? Or for those who are not familiar with Adam's work, what are your thoughts now I've introduced him to you?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.