On the last series of Tom Kerridge’s BBC 2 programme Best Ever Dishes, Tom met with Malaysian chef Norman Musa and they filmed a piece walking round an oriental supermarket, discussing different Malaysian ingredients and how they can be used, which was absolutely fascinating. So, I was keen to find out a little about Norman and his work.
Norman Musa is a Malaysian-born, London-based chef & restaurateur and award-winning passionate ambassador of Malaysian food. Owning the restaurant Ning Manchester (with Ning London coming soon), Norman also hosts regular supper clubs and cookery school sessions (on occasions guesting at Leiths in London). His 8 years of experience as a self-taught chef coupled with his high public profile and extensive practical experience, has led him to actively promote the wonders of Malaysian cuisine around Europe.
Promoted as Europe's leading Malaysian chef, appearing at many UK food festivals, he has also increasingly been seen at international food events across the continent. Featured at the world's largest Eurasian festival, the Tong Tong Fair in The Hague Netherlands, Norman has an invitation to return in 2015 due to his popularity.
His sell-out book, Malaysian Food, is now in its 3rd edition having sold 7,500 copies worldwide. He has extensively been on UK and Malaysian TV including BBC World, BBC2, Channel 4 including Sunday Brunch, Channel News Asia, TV3 and MasterChef Malaysia.
He regularly returns to Kuala Lumpur throughout the year, where he now has a culinary studio in Banting near KLIA. He has just been appointed Food Ambassador for Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, by the city's mayor, with a view to promoting its cuisine and food culture to (especially) European visitors. With this in mind, Norman recently hosted his first ever Culinary Tour of Malaysia with many guests from the UK participating. Norman recently launched a free Food Trails map for Malaysia (produced in association with Time Out) which can be obtained by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was delighted to recently conduct an interview with Norman for the Food Roots section of my website where he discussed the nuances of Malaysian cuisine, the increased popularity of vegetarian food in Malaysia, how food is the focus of celebrations and hospitality in Malaysian culture and the importance of that to him.
How would you describe Malaysian food and the importance of food to Malaysian people and Malaysian communities world-wide?
Malaysian food is very diverse because our cuisine shares heritage with our neighbours - Indonesia and Thailand especially, but also through migration from China and India. It's a melting pot and one of a kind in the world. It means that there is so much amazing variety and you will never be far from delicious food in Malaysia. We eat frequently throughout the day and often stalls and restaurants are open 24/7. Food brings us together especially at festival times. We celebrate all the main festivals of all the major religions represented in Malaysia. We are very hospitable and the first thing we say when friends and family visit our homes is not “how are you?” but “have you eaten?”
How has your Malaysian heritage influenced the way you cook in the UK?
I like to be true to the authenticity of Malaysian food, maintaining the best methods even if I have to change the ingredients slightly because of what is and what's not available in the UK. I can be quite a perfectionist!
Do you celebrate any of the calendared Malaysian feasts and what would you typically make for them?
Two of the biggest events of the year are Eid, at the end of Ramadan, when I love cooking traditional beef rendang and 'lemang' (special glutinous rice), plus Chinese New Year, when I love soup noodles and also dumplings. We run specials in my restaurant, Ning, too.
What Malaysian food would you recommend for vegetarians?
To be honest, Malaysians love their meat and seafood, but increasingly the more health conscious in the cities are trying out new vegetarian and vegan dishes. The Hindu and Buddhist communities in Malaysia eat a lot of vegetarian food, sometimes exclusively and so you can find such dishes in places like Little India (Brickfields) in Kuala Lumpur. I especially like a good dahl (lentil) curry cooked with young mango, green chillies and aubergine topped with fried caramelised onions and curry leaves.
What would be the 'must-have' pantry items to replicate a Malaysian kitchen?
Dried chillies, tamarind, rice, coconut milk, spices, shrimp paste - aside from key herbs such as ginger, garlic and onion, these products are definitely worth having lying around for authentic Malaysian cuisine!
~~~Notes & My Thanks:
I would like to thank Norman Musa for his time in participating in the interview.
Chef Norman Musa - Europe's leading Malaysian chefAsian & Oriental Chef of the Year runner-up 2013
Young Asian & Oriental Chef of the Year 2012
Hospitality Guild Young Hall of Fame 2012
Malaysia National Achievement Awards finalist 2011
One of Malaysia's Top 40 Under 40 2010
Race Chef to Lotus Racing F1 Team 2010
Manchester Chef of the Year finalist 2009
More information about Norman and his forthcoming classes, supper clubs and restaurants can be found via: www.normanmusa.com
Free Food Trails map for Malaysia (produced in association with Time Out) can be obtained by emailing: email@example.com
His own range of gourmet food products are available from his restaurant's online shop at www.ningcatering.com.