MasterChef runner-up Poh Ling Yeow is back on our screens tonight in the second series of her ABC cooking show.
Poh’s Kitchen on the Road, which will air on Wednesdays at 8:00pm, sees Poh waving goodbye to the studio and taking off for a culinary tour of Australia and its neighbours.
Speaking to Meld Magazine, Poh says the experience was a chance to further hone her television skills, as well as her cooking.
“For me as a presenter it was a lot more challenging because I’m holding the fort on my own a lot more in the kitchen now…which was really nerve wracking,” she says.
In the first episode, Poh heads to South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula to see firsthand where some of Australia’s best seafood comes from. After swimming with tuna, she gulps down an oyster she describes as being the size of a “chicken fillet”.
“I always get a little bit of a dare in each episode,” Poh says.
“I had quite a sheltered upbringing, so I was quite a cautious child. And I’m sort of living out all these exciting things in my adulthood now, which is quite funny.
“I’ve done things that I’ve never done in my life before.”
In the course of filming, Poh has travelled across all six of Australia’s states, as well as to Singapore and Thailand.
But Poh says it’s the people she met along the way that have made it all worthwhile.
“That’s the thing I loved about the trip, because it’s all about the places but without the people it would be nothing. It’s the people that colour in the whole experience for me.
“I went (to tropical north Queensland) with my mate who’s a news cameraman at the ABC. He’s Aboriginal and so he took me to where his people where from…we went with the family to catch eel and then all his aunties cooked it in the way that they always cook it.
“It was really lovely to just hang out with his family and learn more about their culture.”
For Poh, food plays a huge role in cultural understanding – including her understanding of her Malaysian Chinese heritage.
“Food has such an amazing capacity to be emotive, and once you’ve tasted that food, even if you don’t relate to your culture much any more, it’s sort of imprinted in you forever.”
Poh, who immigrated to Australia with her family at age nine, went by the Anglicised name “Sharon” for many years.
In her mid-twenties she made a conscious decision to embrace her heritage, reverting back to the name “Poh Ling” and incorporating Asian influences into her cooking and painting – which she has pursued professionally since 2002.
Her paintings often feature a child-like figure with Asian features surrounded by animals – looking out of place yet at home.
“That’s how I feel in Australia,” Poh explains.
“Even though I look very Asian obviously, I call Australia my home and I feel very comfortable here.”
Her food too reflects her dual identity.
“A lot of those recipes from my mum are changing because we’ve got different ingredients available to us in Australia, so the recipes have to change, you can’t just get stuck in the past.
“And I think it should be accessible to Australians as well, because that’s what integration is all about, it’s that sharing of ideas and cross-pollenating.”