MY BLUE TEA CHEF PROFILE
Zaleha Olpin may have gotten controversial attention as the MasterChef UK Contestant who was (unfairly) eliminated because the judges viewed the humble chicken rendang as a dish that had to be crispy.
That is nothing more than a highly personal opinion of the judges, but for Zaleha, she knew better, she had her entire culture and tradition which she has lived behind her, and she trusted her own experience of the dish.
The Rendang Victory
¨I want to share my passion and love for Malaysian food with people around the world. Food is how we connect with each other in Malaysia.¨
The Rendang Controversy
Zaleha remembers rendang as the first thing her mother cooked for her then-boyfriend-now-husband when she first brought him home to meet her parents (lucky husband!). Zaleha even had fond childhood memories of the dish. She used to save up pocket money on Fridays as a child so she could buy the dish from a special stall outside her school that sold the best nasi lemak (served with rendang). That was how precious that dish was to Zaleha. In those days, rendang was a luxury.
To have been so unfairly eliminated in the competition after having worked so hard to get to that point was not easy to stomach for Zaleha. Her feeling of utter disappointment was not about being eliminated and not winning. What gutted her was the lack of appreciation of all the hard work she put into the dish, and the helpless feeling in the face of the unfortunate ignorance of those trusted to be culinary experts on the programme. Ultimately, it was a blow because Zaleha was hoping her efforts on MasterChef could help boost Malaysian cooking in the UK.
Vital Ingredient for Victory
Looking at all that had happened, one could say Rendang was an important ¨ingredient¨ in her early days, and it was also the key that turned her career around and catapulted her to where she is now. Instead of stewing away in the Rendang Controversy, she chose to do a turnaround. She was on her way to The Rendang Victory.
For My Blue Tea, we see Zaleha as way more than just ¨That Rendang Lady¨. While her controversy may have brought her into the limelight, it has turned out to be just the push she needed to trust her innate passion for cooking and publish her very first cookbook, (and we LOVE the title) ¨My Rendang Isn´t Crispy and Other Favourite Malaysian Dishes¨. Yes, we admire Zaleha´s culinary skills but we also absolutely dig her sense of humour and the way she came back with a crispy bounce when she could have allowed The Rendang Controversy to floor her.
A common characteristic running through all of My Blue Tea´s Chefs is how good-humoured, upbeat and tenacious they all are to overcome their own personal challenges to be the successful chefs they are today. All of them faced difficult situations where it would certainly have been much easier to step back and give up. We are so glad they believed in their passion for cooking, and they all pressed on. And are here to share their amazing culinary experiences with the world.
Zaleha´s book eventually won the World´s Best in the Celebrity Chef category in the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2020. That is no mean feat. This is a huge step from letting the judges´ criticisms be a death sentence on her passion and career.
A Sizzling Success
The Rendang Controversy aside, Zaleha´s Culinary CV is absolutely mouthwatering and highly impressive. She has collaborated with top organisations such as the W Hotel Kuala Lumpur, ASDA, Rajah, Cookpad, the University of Bristol, The Great British Food Festival, Waitrose, 91ways and the London Muslim Festival and she is also part of the UK Sainsbury´s Taste Makers team. (Where does she find time to do all that?) Zaleha was even invited to cook with the previous UK High Commissioner to Malaysia, Her Excellency Victoria Treadell, in 2018 as part of a gastrodiplomacy session.
Home is still Best
In spite of having lived in Japan, South Korea, the Middle East and Australia, Zaleha remains very much a Malaysian girl at heart. She has spent more than twenty years abroad which has given her the much-envied advantage of becoming well-versed in international cooking. In spite of that, her traditional roots lovingly embedded in her by her mother who taught her how to cook traditional Malaysian dishes continue to flourish. Her mother was her biggest influence in her cooking. This is truly authentic cooking passed down through the generations. Zaleha does not whip out her international ¨tools¨ when family or guests come around for a meal. It is traditional cooking that she feels most authentic and natural with when it comes to pampering loved ones at home with her cooking.
While it may sound exciting and romantic that Zaleha was living around the world as she followed her husband on his globe trotting, homesickness is a very real challenge for Zaleha. In some countries, it was next to impossible to find decent Malaysian restaurants. As they say, necessity is the mother of all inventions. Zaleha found a way to ease her homesickness and craving for food from home by building up her own passion for cooking and sharing to-die-for traditional Malaysian dishes with everyone.
Just Keep Cooking
Today, Zaleha lives in Bristol with her husband and youngest daughter and she is the owner of the incredibly successful Malaysian KitchenUK Supper Club. She often hosts supper clubs and pop-ups around the country and if there is a food festival somewhere, you are very likely to spot Zaleha doing a food demo there. And like pretty much all our other My Blue Tea Chefs, Zaleha has an insatiable thirst to do more and more gastronomical activities. She is also the founder of That Rendang Lady selling authentic anti-homesickness Malaysian products like Rendang and Sambal Paste.
She may not have imagined being at this point in her life when she was first learning the ropes from her mother in their kitchen at home as a little girl. Zaleha has much to be proud of. She used to work as an accountant at Petronas and she has certainly made a 360 degree turnaround in her life since then.
A mark of a maestro is also their passion to share their knowledge with others, and Zaleha has a generosity of spirit which brought her to teach Malaysian cooking at a local cookery school. And as if that is not enough, Zaleha wants to reach out to even more people (i.e. the entire world!) so she is starting her own YouTube channel to share with people how special Malaysian food is and how it is enriched with flavours and textures because of its multicultural setup.
Sharing a Global Passion
And of course, we love working with chefs who share our passion for sharing good food and it was great fun for us to send Zaleha My Blue Tea´s superfood powders and see what she would whip up! So if you want a taste of a truly sedap recipe infused with true-blue Malaysian flavours, check out Zaleha´s dishes she created using our jackfruit latte powder and butterfly pea powder.
We believe good food is to be shared, and food tastes even better when shared. So be sure to keep your eye on this page, we are always on the lookout for chefs to get to know and who believe in the power of food to bring people together from all over the world!