'If a recipe cooked from this book brings you a word of praise or a smile to the face of even just one of your loved ones, then you and I together will have achieved something truly wonderful'. - Adam Liaw, Asian After Work
The paragraph highlighted above appears on what is effectively the last page of Adam Liaw's wonderful new cookbook, Asian After Work. To me, this only reinforces my opinion that Mr Liaw is one of the most humble, good natured food and cookery personalities to have risen to (huge) fame in recent years.
Liaw is a writer, television presenter and cook, best known as the engaging young lawyer who won series two of MasterChef Australia. His victory on that show is still the most watched non-sporting TV event in Australian history. Hardly surprising. He was the quiet achiever on the show, always delivering a spectacular dish from simple, fresh ingredients. This philosophy shines through in all of his work, including his best-selling debut cookbook, Two Asian Kitchens, and his prime-time food and travel series Destination Flavour and more recently, Destination Flavour Japan, which screens on SBS.
In this latest book, Asian After Work, Liaw takes a practical approach and shows how all of us can create authentic, affordable and great tasting Asian dishes at home, without spending too much time in the kitchen. He says that 'instead of looking for corners to cut, or shortcuts to take, and consequently losing our way with food, we can choose dishes that suit our lifestyles, that reflect not just how we want to eat, but also how we want to cook.' The book's chapters are broken into weekdays, beginning with Sunday through to Saturday, and further to his introduction, Liaw addresses potential questions such as 'I can't cook', 'I don't know what to have for dinner', 'I don't know anything about Asian food', and 'I don't have time to cook'. There are recipes for basics such as white chicken stock, garlic and shallot oil, Liaw family XO sauce, and master stock (Sunday tasks). And then a feast of recipes for everything from a fresh and light Japanese tofu salad, Korean hwachae (halfway between a fruit salad and punch), crab and lettuce fried rice, yum cha mango pancakes, Korean beef bulgogi, simplest coconut ice cream, salt and pepper pork belly, XO prawns and snow peas, to miso roasted eggplant. Deliciousness from cover to cover, really. The recipes are simple to follow and achievable for beginners and accomplished cooks alike.
I had the opportunity to ask Adam a few questions about his philosophy on food and cooking, including what is his favourite recipe and who are his food heroes. Here is our 'conversation'.
Adam, firstly, congratulations on your latest book, Asian After Work, and also Destination Flavour Japan, which is outstanding! I share your philosophy on eating well and cooking fresh, healthy food at home. To achieve this, it's important to have a well stocked larder. What staple Asian ingredients do you always have on hand?
There’s not all that much too keeping an Asian pantry well-stocked [I agree]. I don’t use a lot of pre-packaged sauces and I tend toward seasonings that help to enhance the natural flavours of the ingredients I’m using rather than overpowering them. Pantry staples like soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce are great simple seasonings. Add to that some rice wine (Chinese Shaoxing or Japanese sake), mirin and rice vinegar and just between those six ingredients I can make thousands of dishes.
And what fresh ingredients are always in your shopping basket?
I love spring onions and winter cabbages (whether Chinese or drumhead) because they are very versatile and also don’t overpower dishes. I use garlic and ginger quite sparingly as I think they’re very overused in a lot of Asian cooking. I love fresh herbs too. I grow a lot of herbs and chillies myself but when have to buy them I go to Asian grocers and markets, where they tend to be less than half the price than at the supermarket.
Who are your food heroes... or who inspires you the most when it comes to food and cooking?
My family. I learned so much from my mother and grandmother in my early years which has influenced how I cook today. Now that I have a family of my own they really motivate me to cook the best I can. I want my family to eat well and enjoy good food, and I guess I see it as my responsibility to give them that.
Do you have an all-time favourite recipe?
Hainanese chicken rice is a classic. My father’s side of the family is Hainanese from Malaysia, so it’s a dish I’ve grown up with. It sums up a lot of my philosophy in cooking – simple ingredients, simple processes, natural, light flavours and no waste. It’s a brilliant and inspired dish, and it’s less than 100 years old.
What's next on the agenda for Adam Liaw?
Even though Asian After Work is only just on the shelves now, I’m already deep into writing my next book. It’s top secret at the moment, but I really think people will love it. I’m having a ball writing it. I’ve also just started filming a third season of Destination Flavour, which is taking me all around Australia and New Zealand. It's fantastic fun and it should be on SBS in 2014. I really think we’re hitting out stride with the series and I love that SBS is letting us make some really thoughtful, respectful food television. Being so busy is fantastic but I haven’t had any time off in more than three years. I’ve promised my wife that we’ll take a family holiday sometime before my son turns one, so I’m really trying to make that happen. I hope it does! [Best wishes Adam, I hope you get that family holiday soon too!].
Asian After Work by Adam Liaw, $39.99 (Hachette Australia). I'd like to thank Adam Liaw and the publicity team at Hachette Australia (including Debbie McInnes) for giving me the opportunity for this virtual interview with Adam, and to review this title. If you enjoy Asian cooking, then Asian After Work is an absolute must for your bookshelf.
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