In two fabulous seasons of The Chefs’ Line, we’ve seen incredible recipes executed by dozens of brilliant home cooks, each proudly showcasing dishes that have stood the test of time, taste and family politics. But only one has been forced on the show by a former Chefs’ Line winner, for being their biggest inspiration!
Malaysian-born Samantha Chew became affectionately known on The Chefs’ Line in season one simply as ‘Noby’s mum’. Noby Leong was the last home cook standing in Chinese week in that first season of the show, winning hearts and stomachs all over Australia for his charming good looks and natural affinity for Chinese cuisine. This season, we have the good fortune of seeing where all that talent came from.
The youngest of Chew’s four children, Leong credits his mother for sparking his love of cooking. “Noby is the youngest of my four kids and always followed me around the kitchen and showed a lot of interest in cooking,” Chew recalls. “It was the same for myself growing up. I was the youngest of six siblings and I would go with my mother to the market, prepare food with her, help out during the festival seasons,” says Chew.
Much like many families in South East Asia, growing up meant being an active part of the household. “I would come home from school and mum would be playing mahjong, a favourite pastime in Malaysia. She would say to me ‘why don’t you start preparing dinner, and I’ll come and cook?’,” she recalls. Starting with preparing vegetables and cooking rice, Chew gradually built up her cooking repertoire. A favourite early recipe that she learned was the Nyonya classic, ayam pongteh, a rich and hearty chicken and potato stew.
Chew was more than a little resistant to going on The Chefs’ Line, despite encouragement from her two youngest children. “I said to them, ‘Nah, your mum’s too old!’,” she laughs. In the end, Leong took matters into his own hands, submitting an application on her behalf. “They’ve always been proud that I cook well and enjoy my food, so what was I to do!” she says.
Season 1 saw Leong flex his creativity when it came to his cooking. “Noby has really taken on the Chinese side of his heritage with his cooking. He likes to extend himself and push the boundaries of what he can do. In comparison, I am much more about Malaysian cooking, and keeping it simple,” she says. And what does she think of the difference in approach? “I always tell Noby to keep things simple. Don’t get fancy until you can master the basics. Just focus on the freshest ingredients and treat them well. You don’t need fancy recipes and expensive ingredients to make a great meal,” she says.
For many (myself included), Chew’s presence in season 2 represented a physical reminder of the importance of the maternal force that drives so many families, whether the link is biological or not. Nourishing others not only means feeding them but passing on valuable knowledge when it comes to family recipes and traditions. “I think it’s really important to always tell kids to try and cook at home [particularly when they move out of home]. Not only because it’s cheaper, but you know the food is fresh and good for you. I always tell my kids to buy the best you can afford when it comes to fresh produce. Sure, eating out is fun, but you should always be able to cook something simple and nutritious for yourself,” she advises. Home truths as only a mother can dish.
When it comes to the perfect dumpling, it's all about texture, it's all about flavour and it's all about balance - and to simplify this recipe you can use store brought wonton wrappers. The Chefs' Line
This is my version of Peking duck pancakes but I'm cooking duck breasts (instead of a whole duck) that have been rubbed in a fennel salt and smoked over jasmine tea alongside a sweet-salty-tart fresh cherry sauce.
Dumplings are not just about the filling - that's only half of it. They're also about how delicious the wrapping is. I like to make dumpling skins from scratch because you get a nice chewiness and they melt in the mouth more.