[By Grace Loh]
ETC Magazine recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Arshad Zamir, who not so long ago emerged victorious in Masterchef Malaysia All-Stars. This young man may seem like any ordinary student of Taylor’s University’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts (HTCA), but he has come a long way through the Masterchef Malaysia kitchen since having a slice of humble pie during the show’s first season. Zamir has since sharpened his skills and culinary knowledge to do us proud by being crowned the newest Masterchef. Here, we pick his brains to unearth the talent, passion and humility he brings to the table every time.
[Image credit: mynewshub ]
ETC: First of all, congrats on winning Masterchef Malaysia All-Stars! How does it feel winning the title?
AZ: I’m excited and happy to win! I did this for two reasons, basically. First, for the grand prize, this is a donation to the charity of my choice. The second reason is not about the fame or anything, but to earn extra money because in the culinary industry it’s a tough job to make a living. However, the root of it all is still for the charity.
ETC: I believe you have to be on-set for three months to film the series and hence had to defer a semester from university. As a result, you had not returned to Taylor’s for a while. How do you cope with it now that you’re back?
AZ: It was a bit tough to readjust to a new batch of classmates as most of my friends were from the same batch. At first, I thought the shoot was going to be only on weekends but they told me it’s going to be on every day for three months. It was an issue for me, because compared to my other classmates, I’m a couple of years older. It was difficult to decide – whether to defer or just continue studying. I talked to some of my classmates and my parents. They advised me to go for it, saying how it’s only for one semester, three months. It was tough, but it’s alright now though. My classmates are friendly. None of them really labelled me as the “new kid”.
ETC: What was the initial reaction of your parents to you joining the Masterchef competition?
AZ: Compared to the first season and this one, it’s a really different experience. For the first season my parents were totally against me joining the show because they wanted me to finish my engineering course[…] Then my siblings managed to convince them to let me join. So after that they said, “Well, if you think you really have what it takes then go ahead”.
ETC: Did they know how talented you were at cooking?
AZ: Well, before joining the show, I would cook for them on weekends or special occasions. They were afraid that I couldn’t cope with the pressure of the competition. But they didn’t know I had the other side of cooking either. Usually I would just cook family style food but Masterchef isn’t about that, it’s about finer things. My parents didn’t know I had that side of me as well. This was during the first season though. When the second season came about, they were the ones [who] were pushing me to join the competition. Ironically, I was the one contemplating on whether to give it a shot.
ETC: What did you do differently in the All-Stars that you didn’t do back then during Season 1?
AZ: Back in Season 1 I didn’t have the culinary background but in the All-Stars I do have some culinary knowledge from my time in Taylor’s. I learned more about planning, time management, what to put and what not to put on the plate. The basic things I learned from college, I was able to apply to the All-Stars competition.
ETC: What’s the toughest part of the competition for you?
AZ: The biggest challenge for me is to simplify things. I always try to overdo and overthink to impress the judges. During group challenges, my group will end up in elimination challenges. And during these elimination challenges, I usually managed to win it. Only during then, I would begin to simplify things, keep it straight-forward and that saved me a lot. I always tend to bite off more than I [can] chew.
ETC: Has that ever cost you?
AZ: I think, in the first season. It cost me elimination from entering into the Top 4. I’ve been in a few elimination challenges this season due to overcomplicating stuff too.
ETC: Have you learnt your lesson?
AZ: Apparently I didn’t! Even until the end I was still doing a bit too much but at least I won! [Cheeky grin]
ETC: Every chef has their own signature dish or special cooking technique. What is yours?
AZ: I don’t have a specific signature dish but I would say my area of interest is more towards Italian-Mediterranean food. I’m not really interested in fine-dining food, I lean more towards family-style comfort food. My style of cooking is basically imitating what I watch on TV – I don’t look at the ingredients but instead think of how it should taste and try to replicate it.
ETC: What was going through your mind when you were preparing your dishes during the finale?
AZ: The finale, they wanted us to come up with a three-course meal: appetizer, main course and dessert. They gave us a week to come up with a menu and to give them the ingredients. The first thing that came to my mind was “Ask Chef Farouk [Othman, HTCA Chef Lecturer] for advice” and then he gave me a few ideas on what to cook. From the ideas that he gave compared to the equipment available on Masterchef, it was a bit difficult because he told me to make ice-cream but we don’t have an ice-cream maker in the Masterchef kitchen. Instead I took some of his tips and interpreted [them] to suit my own capabilities and my style. We had a week of break but I didn’t even practice my menu once. I just gave them the menu not knowing how to cook it. The thing is I didn’t want to pressure myself. I told myself I have gotten this far by being spontaneous.
ETC: We are excited to hear your plans for the future!
AZ: In the near future, I plan to continue my studies abroad. I would love to explore other countries to get their influences and their cooking techniques. I’m leaning towards the United States or the United Kingdom. I admire how chefs in both countries are constantly trying new flavours and methods. I’d like to get to know more of that.
ETC: Do you have a word of advice for young emerging chefs like yourself?
AZ: I would tell them what other chefs told me, to just “cook from the heart”. There’s no right or wrong in cooking. It’s what you want to cook, what you think is right, it’s right. Don’t let others tell you otherwise. There will be people who discriminate others who he or she thinks are not good enough. You should never listen to them. Cook your own style, your own way. Be your own chef.