MasterChef UK judge knows nothing about ‘rendang,’ but still has an opinion

There are a few things we can trust British/Australian chefs to do: Curse in the kitchen, become a living meme, and simultaneously make us repulsed by chicken nuggets, while wanting one at the same time.

What we don’t trust British/Australian chefs to do: Make a decent nasi lemak with chicken rendang.

Forty-eight-year-old Kuantan native, Zaleha Kadir Olpin, recently graced the screens of BBC 1 viewers with her appearance on MasterChef UK. The series, broadcast around the globe, and with many local iterations, is arguably the most prestigious television cooking competition on air right now.

While no one expects a smooth ride while on the chopping block (shout-out to all my Chopped fans!), Zaleha could not have anticipated the ignorance of the judges once her spirited rendition of nasi lemak came up for critique.

feed me, please

Whilst exuding authority, yet actually knowing nothing, one judge informed her that the skin on her chicken rendang, that accompanied the nasi lemak, was “not crisp enough” in the quarter-final stages of the competition.

MasterChef UK judge John Torode explained to viewers that the traditional Malaysian breakfast was made using rice with not too much coconut milk, a fiery sambal, and a soft, melting-in-your-mouth chicken.

Fair enough, I guess that sufficiently explains the greatest dish of all time to a bunch of mortals. Go on.

Zaleha proceeded to present judges Torode and Gregg Wallace with a nasi lemak that included chicken rendang, prawn sambal, omelet, anchovies (ikan bilis, duh), peanuts and cucumber.

It was then that co-judge Wallace uttered a phrase so inaccurate and ill-conceived, that it managed to silence Malaysians everywhere for a good 15 seconds: “I like the rendang flavor, there’s a coconut sweetness, however, the chicken skin isn’t crispy. It can’t be eaten and all the sauce is on the skin, I can’t eat.”

Wow. Wow. Ok – let’s break this down. Rendang should have crisp skin? What, ah – you want ayam goreng (fried chicken), issit Wallace? Rendang never has crisp skin, you uncivilized buffoon.

Furthermore, why can’t you eat the chicken skin? Sorry, is that some part of the bird that uppity British cooking show judges have forsaken and left to the peasants (me)? Get atta here.

Torode gave his opinion, which was that the chicken didn’t have enough time to cook down, to give it that soft texture that was desirable, leaving it lacking in flavor.

Ok – look – while we think that Zaleha’s nasi lemak looks damn sedap, we’re not one to argue with the judge. It takes the right amount of cook time, at just the right temperature, to get that lovely, soft texture.

But crisp? Oh, hell nah.

Zaleha, a former Petronas accountant who has spent much of her adult life traveling with her husband due to his work, was “gutted” to hear that the dish resulted in her elimination.

Malaysian netizens were having none of it – claiming that the judges were unqualified to criticize Asian food (sounds racist, until you remember at least one of them has no idea what rendang is), and that both could use a lesson or two on Malaysian food from celebrity Chef Wan.


Zaleha is undeterred with the judges’ opinions, vowing to continue cooking her dish as she always has, and writing “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”

Word, girl.

UPDATE: One of our readers has informed us that a crispy rendang does exist. We stand corrected. Wallace — here you go. Enjoy!





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