'I'm really thrilled about finding a home at SBS Food, amongst such stellar company. It's going to be great fun to share my friends and family - my original cooking heroes - and a lot of the creative chaos involved in renovating, making art, raising two furry sons and running a market stall from the burbs of Adelaide.' – Poh Ling Yeow
One of the things I enjoy most about working in the Australian food industry is that over the years I've come to meet a diverse range of genuinely interesting and delightful people. Poh Ling Yeow is among them.
As background, Poh arrived onto the Aussie food stage in 2009, after she achieved runner up in the first season of Australian Masterchef. She imagined that she’d return to a quiet life of painting afterwards, or possibly indulge her passion for cooking by starting a cottage industry supplying jams to her local green grocer. Instead, she was offered her own cooking show, Poh’s Kitchen, which screened nationally for three consecutive seasons.
The following year, 2010, saw Poh fulfilling a lifelong dream of publishing her first cookbook, Poh’s Kitchen – My Cooking Adventures which stayed on the Australian best seller list for ten weeks. In 2012, Poh returned to the Masterchef kitchen as an ‘All-star’, competing on behalf of the Cambodian Children’s Fund.
In her spare time, Poh continues to pursue her original career as an acclaimed visual artist. She has painted professionally for over ten years with fifteen solo exhibitions under her belt. Represented by galleries in Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide, Poh's work appears in private and corporate collections throughout Australia as well as abroad.
Poh had guest spots in the finals of Dutch Masterchef and John Torode’s Australia in 2014. Then followed the release of her long awaited second cook book Same Same But Different; the launch of Jamface by Poh market stalls in her home town of Adelaide every Sunday; and a major solo exhibition of paintings. If that wasn't enough, Poh is about to screen in her first TV series with SBS, Poh & Co., which starts on 2 April!
I had the opportunity to catch up with Poh recently. Our conversation follows below:
Poh, thank you for taking the time to catch up with me, I know how busy you are.
You're welcome, Liz, thank you for taking the interest.
It's my pleasure. I've been something of a fan since Masterchef. I think you're a very clever cook and have a lovely, down-to-earth way about you. Congratulations on your achievements. I'm not surprised that you have two cookbooks and are presenting regularly on TV.
I'm also in awe of your art. Tell me, when did you start painting?
Oh, thank you, Liz! I'm fuelled by my creativity and started painting professionally in 2002, so thirteen years now. A lot people don't know that I take about three months out of every year to paint, and exhibit and sell my work.
[We discuss how the 'wheels are always turning' for creative people, such as artists, writers and the like, and how many sometimes get up in the middle of night to work on their art, as Poh does, as do I].
What's been the most exciting part of the post-Masterchef journey for you?
I can't say anything in particular, but it's the whole collective experience. I mean, I'm just an ordinary person that went on a reality TV show. I feel if you work really hard for things, they do come to you. I guess a little bit of luck got me there, but there's a certain amount of dedication that you have for your craft that gets you to 'that lucky spot'.
Tell me a little about Poh & Co. the series...
It's a natural progression from where I left off in TV, which was more like a magazine format with me travelling a lot and doing stories on food producers and stuff, which I loved to do. But I was starting to get really fatigued from the travelling and I wanted to return to a recipe-drive show. I feel like my calling is teaching the home cook to be a better home cook. I've never lost sight of it and I feel like it's the thing that drives me the most in food. The show is about what I call 'everyday suburban aspirations', so start a market stall, have a cuddle with the dogs, do renovations around the house, establish a veggie patch, build a pizza oven. The sort of things that I feel most people in Australia can relate to. It was something that was really important to me. I also wanted a TV show that showcased recipes that are really accessible.
The garden looked as though it might have been a massive challenge!
It was a bit of a dream and it's started to look really fantastic. I find that when there's water, things just flourish on their own. It's been really wonderful. I'm about to replant. I just went out and bought a ton of seeds a few days ago and am excited to replant. So the first year was an experiment planting bits and pieces, and I made a few mistakes along the way. I wanted to see how the soil was and what things will thrive, then found I'd end up harvesting a thousand beetroots in one day and so on. I'm growing things now that I actually need for home cooking and the market stall. I love doing it, it's everything I wanted it to be and I find it incredibly relaxing as well.
From watching a couple of the preview episodes, I hear you love 'playing shops'. Tell me a little about Jamface by Poh, the market stall...
It's been a dream that I have had since uni with my best friend. We lived in the same suburb and every time a shop was empty in the neighbourhood we'd stare in the window and long to open a patisserie together one day. Also, my mother is an incredible baker, so I have inherited that from her. The time just seemed right. After I took a break from TV, one of my main aims was to just get in touch with food again, because making food for TV is very different to running a business. And I really wanted to have that experience, because it is a challenge and I just wanted to experience the responsibility of trying to make money from running a food business. It is incredibly difficult.
[We discuss the operation of small businesses, particularly food businesses].
Tell me, what's on the agenda for the rest of 2015...
There's a lot, but there's nothing much. I don't tend to plan ahead. But Jamface by Poh has expanded hugely since we filmed. We're now catering a lot more and we've just acquired an industrial kitchen, which will enable us to do more events and expand the business. And we are also putting one product line into supermarkets. And, I really, really want my art to come back to the forefront as well. I feel like it's had to take a little bit of a back stage role while my food career has gone a bit nuts. So, I'd like to reclaim some of that solitude and get some more painting done. Although at the same time I am kind of sabotaging things, as Jamface is growing at a great rate of knots. I am trying to come to terms with whether I should keep it small, let it grow, or where to take it.
Finally, what's for dinner tonight, Poh?
Oooh, I think nothing. It's been a busy day with the launch of the series and I've been cooking since six in the morning. I had a huge lunch and I'm going to be on a plane. What I think what I am going to do is have a really good snooze on the plane [she laughs].
Thanks so much, Poh, it's been a real pleasure speaking to you...
Thank you Liz, I've really enjoyed it. And just so you know, I feel as though you are really sincere, and interested and paid attention when we were talking, so thank you for a lovely interview. Have a lovely rest of the day.
Poh & Co. is an in-house SBS production. Concept/Executive Producer Erik Dwyer. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #PohandCo. The six-part series begins on Thursday, 2 April at 8.00pm on SBS ONE.
Tell me dear readers, are you familiar with Poh's art or her recipes? Will you be tuning in to SBS for the series? I certainly will be. ヅ
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes, postcards and morsels from my adventures, conversations with cookery writers
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.