PETALING JAYA: Almost every Malaysian is familiar with Chef Sherson Lian. His boyish good looks, fluency in Bahasa Malaysia and ability to create effortless, mouth-watering dishes on television programme 5 Rencah 5 Rasa have won over the hearts of millions of Malaysians.
The show is currently in its 23rd season with Sherson dishing up new recipes for his loyal fan base.
FMT sat down with the chef in his spanking new kitchen studio in Empire Damansara to discuss how he went from selling Coney dogs at a stall in his school fair to becoming a household name in Malaysia.
Surprisingly enough, this celebrity chef’s résumé does not include a culinary degree.
His training began in his mother’s food business, where at the tender age of eight, he would spend his free time peeling onions and garlic and handling all kinds of prep work in the kitchen.
He went on to sell Coney dogs to classmates at his school fair at 13, and he found himself actually enjoying the often tedious process of prepping, packing and selling food.
“I think that was when I knew that cooking was the way to go,” said Sherson.
He went on to head one of his family’s restaurants while also working as a chef at a campground where he prepared meals for campers.
Unknown to Sherson, this side gig would prove to be a turning point in his life. One of the campers, a recipe consultant on the lookout for a host for a new cooking show, saw potential in Sherson and offered him the job.
“5 Rencah 5 Rasa became huge 10 years ago because there were not many non-Malay chefs then.
“It was a fresh concept – a new guy who looks a bit Mat Salleh but cooks belacan and speaks fluent Malay. These three aspects really appealed to the audience.”
Sherson says his Mat Salleh looks comes from his father who has some English blood. He went to school in Kajang where most of his friends were Malay so he picked up the language quickly.
In 2017, he went on to establish Makhan (a reference to the Hindi word for butter) by Kitchen Mafia, a restaurant that offers northern Indian and British comfort food with a contemporary flair.
However, like every other restaurant, Makhan suffered a huge hit during the Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed by the government to stem the spread of Covid-19 in mid-March this year.
“Prior to Covid-19, we did not deliver because I was not a fan of how delivery food tends to arrive, soggy and messy,” Sherson said, adding however that over time he began to realise that people enjoyed the convenience of delivery.
“Even I started ordering food in, so we decided to go ahead with it. However, we took our time with the process and when the MCO hit us, our application was only just being processed,” he says.
Sherson added that his team rushed to get the app up and running but another problem quickly cropped up – there was a surge of restaurants on the delivery apps.
“When Covid-19 first hit us, it was a new issue and we didn’t know what to think of it. Business was bad, we were down by 95%.
“Even with the 5% revenue, 30% of that would go to the delivery app,” Sherson said, letting out an audible sigh.
However, they quickly saw some relief as Makhan was able to reopen for business by May and once word got out, regular customers came streaming in to “revenge spend” as Sherson calls it.
Never the kind to sit still for long, Sherson has cooked up yet another venture. Loyal fans will be keeping their eyes and ears peeled for Sherson’s new YouTube cooking series, which he hopes to launch sometime in August.
The series will take place in his spacious new studio kitchen in Empire Damansara, where he envisions filming a mish-mash of lifestyle cooking and tasty cooking styles.
There will be two English cooking series and one in Bahasa Malaysia.
Despite having travelled the world and cooked alongside other well-known chefs, Sherson’s simple philosophy is that anyone can cook.
“If you see me cooking on television and you feel like it’s something you can follow, it doesn’t matter if it tastes good or not, it’s definitely something you can get better at. If you don’t take the first step, you’ll never get anywhere.”
Before he leaves to survey the rest of the unfinished work at his studio, Sherson fesses up that he is actually an introvert by nature.
Yes, this celebrity chef who is a natural in front of the camera has recently discovered that he has an introverted side to him.
“It’s a constant switch I think. I can be the life of the party but most of the time, no.”
Well, as long as you’re out there cooking delicious food for the world to enjoy Sherson, audiences will take you any which way you are!