I don’t watch much free to air television programmes, but there are two that I would watch daily. One is SBS News at 6:30pm, it is Australia’s only multicultural and multilingual broadcaster and thank god for SBS otherwise there would not be any diversity and variety on one of the mainstream media. Every Sunday to Thursday, after the news, I switch to Channel 10 for MasterChef Australia Season 12: Back to Win, which features former contestants returning for another chance to win the title. There are 3 reasons why I don’t mind watching this reality show:
- My love for all types of food and that I could learn to cook a new dish.
- It helps with my own writing of storybook inspired by recipes.
- It’s a contest based on skills.
Mostly it makes me salivate simply looking at the delicious food that the contestants have cooked. More importantly, I like to see a contestant who has a dream and wants very much to realise it by competing on television, to gain mentorship working in a well-known restaurant under a famous chef and prize money.
Last week’s immunity challenges had two rounds. In round 1, the contestants must create a delicious dish using instant noodle, a cheap sustenance during my schooling days. Round 2 saw 5 contestants gained entry and all of them were of Asian descents. Personally, I thought it was a momentous moment in mainstream media showing diversity, after all it only took 12 seasons, 12 years, to get where we are at, that is to have diversity and inclusion. Strangely it also triggered a memory of the earliest mentorships I had with my mother.
I vaguely recalled I was around 8 or 9 years old and I had expressed the desire to learn how to make instant noodle. It is a favourite go-to between meals or whenever someone is hungry. It fulfils the intention of the creator, Momofuku Ando, to create something cheap, tasty and high calories so as to keep the population full because of shortages in food supply after the war. In my family, it definitely filled our tummies at a low cost.
As I was rummaging the kitchen cupboards for a pot, my mother slowly read the instructions on the instant noodle packet.
“Boil 400ml of water, add noodle, content of seasoning sachet, cook for 4 minutes.”
She gently guided and supported me through the cooking process and where appropriate she would make suggestions.
“Is the water boiling?”
“Have you considered adding an egg?”
“No, but I will now.”
From then onwards, I would always crack an egg and cook with the noodles. I am not an expert by any means, but the egg binds the soup, flavour and takes the dish to another level. Without, it looks and tastes plain. My favourite instant noodle, at that time, was the curry flavour Maggi noodles. Little did I know, that small experience has planted seeds in my inquisitive mind for further actions relating to cooking.
Another vivid memory is when I went to university overseas, it was the first time I have moved out and this was pre-internet and smart phone era. I had a craving for my mother’s chicken curry and though it was not a uniquely special dish, I could not buy it anywhere. Back then, many Asian restaurants served up westernised food for a different palate.
I telephoned my mother and expressed my craving and she suggested:
“Why don’t you cook it?”
“Me? I suppose I can, but I don’t know how to.”
“I am going to teach you.”
“Over the phone?!!”
She gave me a list of ingredients and told me to call back when I had secured them.
“Mom, it sounds too complex, maybe I shouldn’t do it.”
I was daunted, excited and hesitated. With love, encouragement and support, only a mother knows how, she told me 3 things I would never forget.
- I did not have to know everything because she would be on the other side of the phone guiding me.
- If I never try, I would never know.
“Mom, I am living in “gwai lo” country, where am I going to find exotic spices?”
- “If you really want to eat my delicious chicken curry, then you will have to find ways to get all the ingredients.”
With that in mind, I was determined to overcome all the challenges. A shopping list in one hand, I was diligent at the supermarket, checking and reading the label to make sure I have got the right stuffs. In Chinatown, I went from one Asian grocery shop to another, basically went into most of the shops until I found everything, i.e. meat curry powder, galangal, and spices.
I do think that in the 21st century, there is no excuse for anyone to not know how to cook a simple meal when there are excessive and accessible resources available; from cooking shows, google any recipe online, to learning on YouTube videos. All I had, was copper wire ran from a box and a few days later, I rang my mother back.
“How much oil am I using?”
“Why do I have to fry the curry paste first?”
“When do I put the potatoes in?”
“How do I know if the meat is cooked?’
I recall this experience fondly every time. I had such fun and laughter over the phone and the experience further bonded the relationship with my mother. The end result was surprisingly successful with loads of deliciousness that my 2 housemates and myself basically polished off the entire pot over dinner.
The biggest lesson that I have learnt is: “If I really want to do something, I will find a way.”
I have taken this mindset and applied it in my life, anything I want bad enough, nothing will stop. I have since followed my career choice after graduation, being creative and now I am writing a recipes inspired storybook
I have also taken the learnings and applied to my work especially in the area of coaching and mentoring. https:/shianclee.com/work-with-me
Once a client discloses where he or she hopes to be in a given period of time, I help clarify the big picture and like my mother, I offer guidance and suggestion as to what is required to make a goal to become reality. It is often fear that keeps my clients from reaching their fullest potential and by learning from my mother, I am patient, non-judgemental and always coming from a place of curiosity to assist clients to be aware, identify and face their fear.
Before I start any coaching and mentoring session, I would advise my clients that my approach is direct with honesty. I am not afraid to offer constructive criticism which I deliver in positive manner. I believe honesty is important to any successful relationship as my mother would often tell me, in most loving manner, to “pull my head in”, and “stop messing about”.
For me, learning to cook the chicken curry or the contestants on MasterChef with a dream, if there is something, I want more than anything else, I would move mountains to get it. Every morning I would get out of the bed and enjoy the time doing things that I love. I like to think I am delivering quality of work with love and passion but most importantly I get to live and smile happier.
Thank you, Mother, for all the years of guidance, support and love.