PETALING JAYA: All hell broke loose from the UK to Asia during Masterchef UK Season 14 when judge Gregg Wallace took a bite of Zaleha Kadir Olpin’s chicken rendang and declared “the chicken skin isn’t crispy, it can’t be eaten.”
Unknown to Wallace, those eight words would unite former prime ministers Dr Mahathir Mohammad and Najib Razak, who both agreed that no rendang dish worth its salt should have chicken with crispy skin in it.
The furore over that comment also united Malaysians and Indonesians, long-time sworn enemies when it comes to food, who felt the judge didn’t know what he was talking about.
It has been two years since the “crispy rendang” incident and Zaleha has not only made peace with it, but benefitted from all the exposure. FMT got in touch with her recently regarding her latest venture.
“Life has been amazing. Albeit a little busy since the ‘crispy rendang’ saga. Fortunately, many wonderful opportunities and blessings came from it.
“I published my first cookbook in August 2019, titled ‘My Rendang isn’t Crispy and Other Favourite Malaysian Dishes’.
“Cheeky I know, but I’m really very proud of it,” says the pint-sized Zaleha from Kuantan.
The book features Zaleha’s favourite Malaysian family recipes such as nasi lemak, one of the country’s most iconic dishes; as well as her famous “not crispy” chicken rendang.
Her latest business venture however is homemade pastes wittily labelled, “That Rendang Lady” that has met with great success.
The idea took shape after she started gifting her homemade pastes to friends during special occasions and Christmas. Soon they were requesting it for their family and friends.
According to Zaleha, while the homemade rendang paste is based largely on her family recipe, she did make some vegan-friendly adjustments to it.
There are currently two types of paste under the label, which are “Not So Crispy Rendang Paste” and “Not So Saucy Malaysian Sambal Paste”.
Good news for curry laksa fans out there as Zaleha is putting the finishing touches to the paste of this favourite dish and promises it will be out soon.
“As you know, producing rendang in big batches takes hours and hours to prep. It’s a dish that contains 20-plus ingredients and you have to keep stirring and waiting.
“This paste takes all the hard work out and one can still enjoy the taste of flavourful and homemade rendang but in a much shorter time,” says Zaleha.
The best part of this dish is that it was served during Masterchef, so wannabe Masterchefs can attempt cooking Zaleha’s chicken rendang using her paste in their own homes.
When concocting the sambal paste, Zaleha explained that she wanted it to have multiple uses. Therefore the paste can be used as a base for fried mee or fried rice.
“Of course, you can enjoy it with rice. Add some anchovies, sugar and salt and your sambal nasi lemak is ready to eat. The combinations are endless.”
At the moment, Zaleha’s pastes are only sold in the UK and Ireland as every single jar is made by hand using fresh local ingredients.
More significantly, no preservatives are added. However, this means the shelf-life of her pastes is short, making it unsuitable for international deliveries.
The pastes retails for £4.50 a jar. Zaleha is also in talks with a factory in the UK to mass-produce her pastes so she can widen her market reach.
She says the best part of her latest business venture is receiving customer feedback. “It has been amazing! I love hearing feedback from all my customers, both Malaysians and foreigners and I’m always open to suggestions.
“One funny thing that I always get is this comment ‘make it spicier’ from all fellow Malaysians. After all, we do love our spice.”
Zaleha who currently resides in Bristol understands that living away from home is tough, especially when one does not have easy access to their favourite Malaysian dishes.
“There are plenty of good Malaysian restaurants in London but not many in regional areas. As Malaysians, our food means everything to us really.
“This paste allows that emotional connection to home and our families and that is something really special for me. I’m so glad that I can share this with everyone!”