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Chasing dreams: a leaf out of Adam Liaw’s book

Karen Poh

Tue May 24 2011

Adam Liaw

On the last leg of his book tour here in Melbourne, Adam Liaw reminisces about student life and the things he cooked, and shares a recipe of his own. Find out also how you can win a signed copy of his new cookbook Two Asian Kitchens.

Growing up, Adam Liaw wanted to be many things.

“I wanted to be everything. I wanted to be a psychiatrist at the start, then I wanted to be a stockbroker, then I wanted to be a surgeon, then I wanted to be a lawyer. You go through a lot of things and you try and work out what you want to do,” he says.

“I think for students these days, it’s very easy to feel like you’re up the wrong path or that you haven’t made the right decision, and you’re not sure if the course you’re doing is the right one for you.

“I think the important thing for students to know is that no matter what you study or what path you’re on, there are always different avenues to go down all throughout life, whether you’re in uni or you’re out of it. I’ve been out of uni for 12 years and now I’m making another change.”

Not that Liaw would describe his decision to hop aboard that Sydney-bound plane to audition for the 2010 season of Masterchef a “leap of faith”.

“I didn’t expect anything to come from it,” he says.

“I just felt like it was time to try something a little bit out of the ordinary. Like many people, you go to school, you go to uni, get a job, move on to another job and another job after that, but if there’s something you’re passionate about, you always get drawn back to it… It was just a matter of keeping my mind open to opportunities that arose.”

And opportunities have been aplenty since Liaw took home the Masterchef crown last year – from interviews, television appearances, cooking shows and book signings to cooking at the World Expo in China and working in Australia’s top kitchens like Flower Drum here in Melbourne and Tetsuya’s in Sydney.

Now that his cookbook has hit the shelves, next in the pipeline is a Japanese pub-style restaurant which Liaw hopes will be open for business as early as September this year.

I’ve been working on that on and off even before Masterchef, actually for quite a few years now with very close friends of mine who are restaurateurs over in Japan,” he says.

Liaw’s top tip for aspiring chefs who wish to follow in his footsteps is to keep cooking.

“It’s like anything. If you want to get better at football, you play more football and practice. Cooking is exactly the same,” he says.

“The more you cook, the better you’ll be, the more things you try, the braver you’ll feel to try other new things.”

Of course, cooking hadn’t always been so fancy.

He still remembers what it was like messing around the kitchen with flatmates in his student days and cooking for friends who regularly dropped by for dinner.

“You not only have got to come up with things you can make quite quickly, but stuff that is relatively cheap and tastes good,” he says.

I learned a lot of different styles of cooking and a much more practical style of cooking.”

His favourite dish?

“There were a lot of favourite dishes, but one of the dishes that I did make a lot of when I was a student was char kway teow,” he says.

“I was born in Penang and moved to Australia when I was three. We were one of those families that went back to Malaysia twice a year and there are a lot of memories from after I moved to Australia.”

Liaw says the biggest difference between cooking at home and cooking in front of the camera is “a lack of planning”.

It’s very different having all Sunday afternoon to make one specific dish you really want to eat, to cooking a specific dish you’re proud of with all these different constraints and time limits, which is the nerve-wrecking part.”

Off-camera, Liaw is also learning to take his new celebrity status in his stride.

“It takes a little getting used to when people know your name when you’re walking down the street and stuff like that, but I’m quite lucky in that people have treated me overwhelmingly positively,” he says.

“But the best thing about being in the spotlight is that you choose your own level of involvement. You never have to give out more information or privacy than you want to. I’m not a secretive person by nature so it’s kinda fine for me.”

Adam’s Laksa Fried Chicken

This dish combines two of my favourite foods in the world: laksa and fried chicken. On family road trips around Malaysia we would sample as many plates of fried chicken from roadside stalls as our stomachs would allow. I can’t say if we ever found the perfect fried chicken — it was really more about the journey than the destination.

Serves: 4–6 Preparation: 35 minutes + overnight marinating Cooking: 25 minutes


  • 1 whole chicken, jointed into 10 pieces
  • 1 cup curry laksa paste
  • 125ml coconut cream neutral-flavoured oil, to deep-fry
  • 75g cornflour
  • 75g plain flour
  • 90g desiccated coconut

Laksa leaf sauce

  • 1 tbsp shredded laksa leaf (Vietnamese mint)
  • 80ml rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3 red birds-eye chillies, seeded and finely chopped


Score deep cuts about 3 cm apart in any large pieces of chicken to allow the marinade to penetrate. Mix together the laksa paste and coconut cream and use to coat the chicken. Leave in the fridge overnight, removing 1 hour before cooking to return to room temperature.

Half-fill a large saucepan with oil and heat to 160°C. Mix together the flours and coconut. Remove the chicken from the marinade, leaving much of the liquid still clinging to it, and coat in the flour and coconut mixture. Deep-fry in batches until golden brown and cooked through (about 10–12 minutes for thigh pieces, 7–8 minutes for breast pieces and 4–5 minutes for wings). Drain on paper towel.

To make the laksa leaf sauce, mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Serve with the chicken.

Are you an aspiring chef? We have a signed copy of Adam Liaw’s new cookbook Two Asian Kitchens to give away. All you have to do is post a picture of a dish you have cooked (complete with the name of the dish) on Meld Magazine’s Facebook page, and get your friends to vote for your dish! The most popular dish wins. Competition closes 11pm Monday June 6.