The real Master Chef

Posted on November 6, 2012

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In the mid 1980s when I was in my teens, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had a base in Butterworth, a part of the state that is situated on the mainland. Consequently there was a reasonably big population of Australian families on Penang Island. While her efforts over a hotplate were poetic, KuKu was (and is) illiterate. Despite this, in my youth she was determined to reach a legion of expatriate military housewives with the wonders of our cuisine. With me as a scribe, and with her friend rounding out the finer points of translation, she would soon become a local legend. Alas, all of those lovingly hand-typed recipes have since been discarded or lost during our much nomadic relocations. We never did compile them. When the troops returned home, the little knowledge community that was their raison d’etre had evaporated.

I became inspired to share this story (and the food that accompanies it) with the world through this blog. Food that, in a market saturated with generic staple dishes at one end of the multicultural spectrum and exotic fads at the other, would provide some authenticity in the middle: Recipes that people could connect with and make their own. When I told KuKu of this new venture, she chuckled. She kindly but cruelly put me in my place, gently reminding me – as only a mother-figure could – of the many projects I started but never finished.

Looking back in my life I cannot disagree with her. After all who would know us better if not our mothers? I have been guilty of many unfinished projects – extravagant ideas that, if not realised within the expected time-frame, would  gradually fizzle out like a balloon with its air released.

Is this another one of them grand ideas? Will my achilles’ heel dictate the fate of The Pearl Kitchen?

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