With a broad smile, chef Zainal enters the stage in his chef costume holding two mugs. The music starts, and soon he starts swaying. As the beats get fast, he moves like an experienced dancer and strikes different poses, pouring hot tea from one mug to another without spilling a drop. Not a single moment he looks tense.
Zainal says music is an important ingredient in his cooking, especially during the making of Teh Tarik, a hot milk tea beverage that can be commonly found in restaurants and outdoor stalls. “Whenever I make tea, I listen to music. The process is not nice without music,” says Zainal, champion of Battle of Teh Tarik 2018 held in Kuala Lumpur. “In the competition, judges look for the dancing as well as the culinary skills. Many would be able to dance, but making tasty tea by dancing is a difficult task,” explains Zainal, who is all set to treat Kochites with sweet and spicy Malaysian dishes that include Rendang Ayam, a dry type of curry; traditional Malaysian chicken rendang, a version of dry chicken curry; Ayam Masak Merah, a Malay style red chicken curry; Ikan Masak Kari, a thick fish curry; Pajeri Nenas, pineapple curry; Sambal Terong, a roasted eggplant fish with spicy chilli sauce; Satay, a grilled meat or fish with spicy peanut sauce and Sayur, a traditional vegetable dalcha.
Taste them, and one could find that Malaysian dishes share similarities with Kerala cuisine. “The spices are same, only their names differ,” says Zainal. “Malaysian food is very spicy. For people of Kerala, I have made it less spicy,” he adds.
Before coming here, Zainal, who travels across the globe introducing Malaysian food, had interacted with chefs here to get a basic idea of Kerala cooking style. “That is my process. I talk or text to them, and design my style accordingly. I bring slight changes in my cooking style in tune with the taste of people.”
Zainal started his culinary journey when he was 16. “My father passed away at my young age, and my mother used to work. So, I would handle cooking those days, which later became my profession.” He has been making people happy with delicious food for the past 25 years.
It is his visit to Kerala. “I came to Kochi from Chennai. So, it was a relief for me to see so much greenery while the flight landed. I liked both the greenery and the food,” says Zainal. He will be cooking Malaysian cuisines at Kochi Marriott till July 14 from 7 pm to 11 pm....