Sarah Benjamin is one of the two winners of the first season of Food Hero. Her obsession with food was also supported by her family since young age. She began to develop her passion in cooking Asian specific foods and started her own cooking blog and shared great cooking experience and food styling. Her spirit and unique character comes to culinary and traveling passion.
Here, Sarah shares her passion for food, food blog, discusses Must Try: Asia, and offers advice on how to create a new recipe. Read on:
Would you please tell us why you’re interested in Asian food?
“Growing up in Singapore, I was exposed to such a diverse range of flavors, especially Asian flavors of all kinds. I really love how Asian food has such great balance of flavors and cooking styles – for example, a bowl of soupy noodles with something crispy and fried on the side. Or a bowl of plain steamed rice topped with punchy, spicy curry.”
You’re a great food stylist! Could you share how you developed this skill?
“Thank you so much! To be very honest, when I first started my food blog, www.kitchenhoarder.com, my photos were really nothing to look at. However, I’m a perfectionist, so I worked very hard at it, really studying other food stylists and photographers’ work and practicing. I think the most important thing is identifying your personal style and sticking with it.”
You studied social and political sciences in university, do you have any plans in furthering your career related to these fields of study?
“I absolutely loved studying sociology and politics, and it really taught me about the world around us. I currently get to utilize those parts of my education in my consulting work, but I really hope to blend my love for food and love for society and culture together in the future, as I think it’s really important to understand the people who cook food before you can truly understand the food itself.”
What is your favourite Asian food?
“This is such a difficult question because I love so many foods! But my real comfort food has got to be Hainanese chicken rice. I love how such an unassuming looking dish can be so full of flavour.”
Do you think there is any correlation between food and culture?
“I think there’s a really important relationship between food and culture. Food only comes out of the society it exists in, so I really think you need to understand a culture before you can understand its food. Conversely, food can tell us a lot about a culture as well. For example, Japanese food is so meticulously made, and such attention is paid to its presentation and the processes of cooking. This immediately tells us about how people in Japan like to live their lives. That’s one of the biggest reasons I love food – it helps us understand the world.”
How many TV shows have you hosted? And how are food programs different to other programs?
“My first show for the Asian Food Channel, Must Try: Asia, aired at the end of 2014. Since then, I’ve been working on digital content, creating short video recipes that anyone can follow with my web series Simply Special. I’m also currently filming my next show that will air later this year! I think food programs are such a perfect balance of entertainment and education, in that you can actually learn how to cook new things or about new places, but it’s still lots of fun.”
I see that you also post about food on your own blog. How important would you say keeping on your own blog is for your career in the food industry?
“My blog started out simply as an outlet for me to record recipes and thoughts about food. I never thought other people would be interested in it, but as it began to take off, I was really encouraged to experiment more in the kitchen and come up with my own recipes. On a personal level, having the blog has really spurred me to improve my cooking and achieve more in the kitchen. I think blogs and websites are great reading for anyone interested in food, and it really helps build a community of food lovers and food experts.”
What are some interesting differences between food and fashion?
“I really love fashion, but I do think that food is a lot more instinctual than fashion. I think that everyone immediately knows what they like to eat and what they dislike, so although you might be interested in food trends, you are guided by a very basic taste instinct. Fashion is shaped more by trends and the opinions of experts and designers.”
In your opinion, which Asian food is most difficult to cook?
“I think every dish has its challenges, but some dishes are just designed to be cooked in a restaurant. For example, with traditional Chinese food, you really need a powerful flame to fire your wok. Without that intense heat, you just can’t recreate the ‘wok hei’ or ‘spirit of the wok’ in your cooking.”
What are some common components/flavours between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore cuisine in your opinion?
“To an outsider, the food and flavors of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia may seem really similar, but there is so much diversity in the food of this region. I think what ties it together is a love for balanced flavors even while using a wide range of spices. Cooks in this region always make sure to balance the elements of spice, sweetness, saltiness and sourness, as well as tempering it with coconut or coconut milk.”
When did you realise your love for cooking?
“When I was 5 or 6 years old, I cooked a 3 course meal for my father’s birthday. I remember making a carrot and ginger soup as a starter. Although it now seems like such a simple dish, my family was really impressed with it. I’ve never forgotten the satisfaction I get when people enjoy the food I’ve prepared, and that was the first one I realized I loved to cook.”
What are some of the initial steps you take when in the process of creating a new recipe?
“I am constantly thinking of new ideas for recipes, and always on the lookout for inspiration. A flash of inspiration can strike at any time, so I make sure to write down all my ideas. Then when I have time, I’ll try out the recipe and refine it further until I’m happy with it. But to me, a notebook is one of the most important tools of my kitchen.”
Who is your favourite mentor/chef that influenced you?
“Someone who really inspires me is Yotam Ottolenghi, a London-based chef. I love how his food is so clearly guided by his middle eastern heritage, yet he isn’t afraid to experiment and improve on his dishes using modern techniques. I hope to bring the same sense of heritage to my cooking, but with the same open-minded attitude to innovation.”
Do you have any interest in attempting to cook European cuisine?
“I actually learnt to cook European cuisine first, and only developed my Asian cooking skills when I was studying overseas and had no access to good Asian food. I’m a very adventurous cook, and I love trying new things in the kitchen, so I would never confine myself to one cuisine over another. It’s all fun for me!”
Do you have any plans to open your own restaurant?
“I would love to open my own restaurant, and I’ve had serious visions of places I would be so proud to call my own. However, I’m currently focusing on this wonderful adventure of hosting that I’m on. I always want to do the best I can, no matter what I do, and there’s so much I want to achieve, but who knows what will happen in the future?”
Could you share with us what you intend to further achieve in the culinary world? Besides cooking, what are your other hobbies?
“I would love to write cookbooks, and host more shows. Most importantly, I would love to share my passion for cooking with people and inspire them to cook and have fun in the kitchen. Besides cooking, I love to write, photograph and play the cello. I also love to travel, and hope to do alot more of it.”
Please share some advice for others who are interested in being a chef?
“I think the most important part of learning to cook is learning to eat. What I mean is that developing your own palate is the first step to being a great cook. When you become a discerning eater, you can distinguish between subtle differences in flavour and texture, which will really help you develop your cooking techniques and style. Also, always remember to have fun when eating and cooking! Never take food too seriously, and always retain a sense of adventure.”
Must Try! Asia
Food Hero winner Sarah Benjamin and the ever-innovative Chef Malcolm Goh travel across Asia’s most popular capitals and tuck into the city’s signature dishes in Must Try! Asia. Whether it’s Singapore’s famous Chicken Rice or Bangkok’s tasty stir-fried rice noodle, this adventurous duo will show you how creative you can go in re-creating these iconic dishes in your kitchen! Only on the Asian Food Channel.
Visit www.asianfoodchannel.com for more information.
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