MY BLUE TEA CHEF PROFILE
JACKIE M TANG
Deliciously successful, Jackie has more than 1.9 million followers worldwide and is one of the most influential Australian chefs on social media.
Jackie is sought after as one of the world's experts in traditional techniques and classic flavours of Southeast Asian cooking. She honours the authenticity of Asian cooking techniques and styles while also boldly experimenting with giving a Southeast Asian twist to everyday Australian dishes.
Jackie M Tang
Digital Leap for Authentic Asian Street Food into Global Cyberspace
It is not every day that you hear about a small town girl who achieves a socially-approved career, then leaves it to follow in the footsteps of her street-food vendor parents. Jackie M is one chef who has done precisely that and has since been celebrating a delicious success.
Jackie was working as an I.T. consultant in Sydney and London, and she was a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Cisco Certified Network Associate as well as Certified Novell Administrator in merchant banking and the insurance industry. A career span to be envied.
In 2001 she did a 360 degrees turnaround and started selling street food. Definitely a jaw-dropping conversation starter. Might even leave some with an uncomfortable silence scratching their heads wondering if they heard it wrong and got the order of her career the other way round.
Today, Jackie's pride, respect and passion in her culinary beginnings in her family has skyrocketed her way beyond what she could ever have imagined.
Having spent more than two decades cooking up a storm, Jackie is a highly respected Malaysian and Singaporean street food specialist, a former restaurateur, TV presenter as well as a pioneer of live cooking videos. She is not only gifted gastronomically speaking, she had the foresight to take cooking to another level and new audiences.
She has had 1.9 million followers worldwide and is one of the most influential Australian chefs on social media. She is sought after as one of the world´s experts in traditional techniques and classic flavours of Southeast Asian cooking. She honours the authenticity of Asian cooking techniques and styles while also boldly experimenting with giving a Southeast Asian twist to everyday Australian dishes.
Scarcity begets Creativity
Jackie did not spend her childhood playing with plastic pots and pans, scooping sand into toy bowls and putting together a feast for her dolls, dreaming of being a cook during her simple days in Seremban. It was when she migrated to Australia as a teenager that her culinary itch flared up. Food does indeed nurture one´s soul and not being able to find decent Asian food in Australia at that time was frustrating for Jackie. If you grew up with true-blue authentic Asian food, you will find it hard to settle for less when you taste ´Asian´ food in other countries.
This did not mean that Jackie went from frustrated, hungry teenager to culinary rockstar overnight. Asian food is highly complex in its flavours. Anyone living in a foreign country can imagine the difficulties one could encounter to cook an authentic Asian meal the way mum made it. Can you get the ingredients? If so, are they of good quality? Can you even get the appropriate recipes and cooking utensils? After this hurdle comes the endless hours of being in the kitchen recreating the complex flavours that Jackie grew up with in her childhood. It is not unlike a science laboratory where measurements and temperatures have to be exact, and dealing with a lot of disappointments as she went through round after round of trial and error. Much of her time was also spent on research - reading, finding out information, talking to people. It was a humble, intense period on her learning curve.
From Market to Restaurant
Jackie became a regular presence at the farmers' markets around Sydney in the early 90s where she experimented with recipes and took the leap to introduce Australians to Malaysian street food at her stalls at weekend markets.
This brought her to the next level where she started her own restaurant in 2006 in the inner west suburb of Concord. Jackie's strength lies not in just having the grit and perseverance to try new projects and get through obstacles, but also more importantly, in knowing how to find the balance between managing personal and professional challenges.
In 2013, she decided to close her restaurant to look after her son who was ill. It turned out to be a highly intelligent move as she turned her focus to food coaching, TV presenting and online content creation. No matter how excellent a cook one is, nobody will know about you if you are not visually and digitally accessible to everyone. And Jackie literally got the whole world at her fingertips with this move.
Jackie had a desire to bring global recognition to the uniqueness and beauty of Southeast Asian cuisine and thanks to her pride in her family, her culinary roots and a desire to honour that, she is bringing Asian cuisine to the entire world not via the upper end of luxurious gastronomy, but through humble (authentic and to-die-for) street food into kitchens in Australia. Modest beginnings can certainly be a powerful seed for an amazing future.
"...my entire family is made up of high-achieving, productive members of society who bear no scars from having had to hang out with mom and dad at work 7 days a week. Some of our best dinner table stories revolve around our Odeon cinema canteen (dad’s stall) exploits."
Jackie has beautifully blended what she adored about her country of birth and her family into her adopted country, and with a touch of her Hakka-Chinese descent, her personality has become unique in the Malaysian-Australian culinary industry and across the world.
Weathering the Toughest Storm
Reading someone else's success story sometimes gives one the misleading idea that it was all smooth sailing. Jackie has weathered many storms of her own.
Jackie has spent many years raising awareness for people with Down Syndrome and to give support to other families who are going through the same journey as herself and Noah, her son. When Jackie closed her restaurant so she could look after Noah, she planned to continue selling her food at the street markets. By that stage, Noah had been discharged from ICU and was accompanying Jackie on all her markets and festivals.
Jackie M Tang with son, Noah
This created a huge storm that she did not expect. The presence of Noah at her stalls and markets was something some people found uncomfortable. From their very first day together, Jackie has had to face disapproval, criticisms and even attempts to have Noah removed from the markets. Jackie has been through huge waves but seeing her son through his long period of illness and never-ending surgeries were her toughest and to have no support at the end of it to help her manage her career and look after Noah was one that nearly knocked the wind out of her sails.
Finally, after 14 years of working at markets, Jackie decided the emotional stress of this was not worth staying on for, and after two and a half years of enduring judgement instead of offering solutions, Jackie pulled out and focused instead on creating online food content. And what a fine move that turned out to be. Jackie is definitely not looking back.
Her step into the digital culinary sphere has helped her business to expand exponentially. What felt like something she was pushed to do, has turned out to be a saving grace.
Baby Noah had a traumatic and complex medical history and the first 217 days of his life was spent battling for it through illnesses and surgeries with several medical teams looking after him. Christmas 2012 was Noah's first beautiful Christmas at home. He was stable and ready to embrace his new life at home with Jackie.
Jackie has no qualms about sharing her recipes with others - that is what she has been doing through her career, sharing authentic food worldwide. This is her way of ensuring these precious traditions can endure through the generations.
World-famous chef notwithstanding, Jackie is still a simple Seremban girl at heart who enjoys the simple happiness of cooking and sharing homecooked food with loved ones, and to welcome new friends across cultures.