10 questions with… Jackie M

by lex on March 27, 2013

Jackie M - Image supplied courtesy of Jackie M ©

Jackie M
Image supplied courtesy of Jackie M ©

Where do chefs find inspiration? Do they cook at home? And who would they most like to have dinner with? These are just some of the questions running through my mind when I meet chefs. Yes they are just ordinary people but I love to know what makes them tick.

Jackie M entered the restaurant business back in 2001 when she became frustrated with the lack of good Malaysian food in Sydney. Today she is known around town as the Queen of Malaysian cuisine. Her restaurant, Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine, is open three nights a week – Thursday to Saturday – and it can be difficult to get a table. You can find Jackie and her team at Leichhardt, Marrickville, Concord Hospital and Hornsby-Kuringai Hospital markets (see the schedule for more information). And her fans were excited when Jackie recently started cooking classes at the Grace Hotel (which you can read more about here).

But it doesn’t stop there. Jackie is also a social media guru and you can find her on Twitter, Facebook, online at the official Jackie M Website, her food blog Jackie M Blog, her personal blog Seremban Girl, and Google +! Oh and did I mention she also looks after her 10 month old baby, Noah, who requires full-time, round-the-clock care due to his disability? Jackie is a rather amazing person!

The Queen of Malaysian cuisine was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer my random questions. Here’s what she had to say…

1. What’s your favourite food story?

I remember when I was about 6 or 8 years old in Malaysia, one of my siblings brought an Australian visitor home for dinner. My mom cooked up a more elaborate dinner than she usually did, as a welcome gesture. One of the dishes she made was a fried fish, and the Australian guest thought the whole fish was for him. Which alarmed us briefly because we worried that none of us would get to eat any of the fish. I guess that was the first time I realised the difference between Western and Asian dining styles; we fully expect to share one fish with the whole table, Westerners generally expect to each have their own fish.

2. Where do you find inspiration?

Food-wise, in Malaysia. I discover new dishes and new takes on old dishes every time I go back there. It never ceases to amaze me how diverse our cuisine is; just last week one of the interns at NTV7 (a Malaysian network with whom I filmed a TV show recently) sent me pictures of food in Kelantan, including one called Nasi Air (literally, Water Rice) – I’d never even heard of it and now I’m fascinated to go back and try it.

3. What’s your favourite guilty food pleasure?

Durian – here in Australia, primarily in the form of Durian Smoothie 🙂

4. Who are your culinary inspirations?

The street food vendors I grew up with, including my own parents’ beginnings selling street food in our hometown. These people spend years honing their craft and they do it not in the hopes of getting on Masterchef or becoming the next Nigella Lawson, but to put food on the table and to help raise their families for what they hope will be a better future ahead.

5. What’s your pet peeve?

You mean pet peeves, plural; I could fill the pages of War and Peace with them 😛

One of my pet peeves is derived from the fact that a disproportionate number of my fellow transplanted Malaysians fancy themselves as experts in Malaysian food by virtue of having been raised there.

What they’re sometimes blissfully unaware of, is the fact that there are lots of regional and other variations to dishes of the same name – for example, practically every state in Malaysia has its own version of rendang and laksa. Yet, if the version you serve happens to differ from what they were accustomed to in their neck of the Malaysian woods, they write it off as “inauthentic” whereas in Malaysia, the locals would simply see it as a different take on the same dish.

6. I imagine suppliers would be extremely important to you. How do you select suppliers?

I use only halal ingredients so it’s imperative my butcher is halal. Apart from that, availability of some of the more diverse items in my shopping list dictates where I shop – and that invariably means Flemington and Cabramatta, where a lot of the grocery stores are run by the Vietnamese, who share some common ingredients in their cooking with Malaysians – eg. items like lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, yam bean, pandan leaves etc. etc.

7. How important is locality and seasonality of produce in cooking?

Apart from the general wisdom of buying produce that’s in season from a price point and quality perspective, I have to be honest and admit that in the pursuit of using the “right” ingredients for my recipes, I go overboard in hunting down and paying a premium for items even if they’re not in season or are not readily available.

Eg. I’ve been having trouble getting my hands on yam bean aka sengkuang for the best part of the last two months, and that’s affected my ability to have one of my signature items, popiah, on my menu. I’d happily drive long distances and pay double if I could get my hands on it, but I haven’t had much luck so far.

8. Is there any food you hate eating or cooking with?

Yes, pork 🙂 I can’t stand the smell of it, and I get accused (in jest) of being a traitor to my Chinese heritage because of it, because we all know how much the Chinese love their pork. Then again, I’ve always had a rebellious streak in me – as soon as I’m told I should do something, I almost instinctively do the opposite.

9. Anything you fail at cooking?

I don’t bake; I don’t really eat baked goods myself so I’ve never been motivated to attempt/perfect it. I can see myself failing miserably at something like making macarons – I lack the patience and finesse for it.

10. If you could have dinner with 3 people (dead or alive) from any time in history, who would you invite and why?

I blogged about Peter Kenny on my personal blog – serembangirl.wordpress.com – awhile back, but for want of a better term I guess he became something of a mentor to me with his radical take on marketing and branding. He passed away shortly after I lost contact with him and I’ve always wondered what it would be like if he could see me now, 20 years after we used to talk every day. I’d also be interested in meeting his business partner, John Singleton – Peter told me so many stories about their exploits and I’d be curious to hear John’s side of the story – so if anyone out there knows Mr. Singleton, let him know Jackie M wants to meet him.

My dad has been suffering from dementia for several years; I would love to turn back the clock and listen to his stories at the dinner table about his early years – from the Japanese occupation to how he and my mom first met, and the hardships they went through eking out a living in my little hometown, with 9 kids in tow.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Hind March 28, 2013 at 8:54 am

Great questions and answers! And wonderful that you got Jackie to answer questions. We’re all big fans of Jackie’s cooking and respect Jackie immensely, and we are even planning our own trip to Malaysia sometime soon too. And to think that only about three years ago, we had no idea what Malaysian food was!

I actually have a similar food story. When at my work in South Africa the CEO of the company was trying to woo some Thai businessmen to get them to use the company’s products. He invited the Thai delegation to a meeting that was hosted in a meeting room near to my desk and to try to make them feel at home he had (probably completely non-authentic) Thai food delivered. All hell broke loose when one of the Thai businessmen reached over and took something off the CEO’s plate thinking that it was it was a shared platter. The CEO had loaded up his plate, and in South Africa food sharing, even Asian food, is unheard of. I distinctly heard something along the lines of “how dare you take my food. That’s mine!”

Needless to say the meeting didn’t go we’ll after that and I don’t think they got the contract they were looking for!

Reply

Miss Piggy March 28, 2013 at 9:31 am

Good interview! I’m surprised you managed to pin Jackie down long enough to get her to answer these…she’s such a busy busy lady with tasty tasty food.
Miss Piggy recently posted..Naruone, Chinatown (Sydney)My Profile

Reply

Jackie M March 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Hahaha great story, Craig! Thanks for the kind words to you and Miss Piggy both – and those questions were HARD! 🙂

Reply

Raelene March 28, 2013 at 1:36 pm

What a great interview! Can we please go back to Jackie M soon, Lex? I am hungry for a plate of char kuey teow…
Raelene recently posted..OCT 14 x Mount Namsan and Midnight Coffee by the HanMy Profile

Reply

jackiemsydney August 5, 2013 at 11:22 am

Aw thanks Raelene (sorry, just saw everyone’s comments now :P)

Reply

Lex March 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hi Craig – great food story 🙂 You’ll have to keep me posted on your holidays plans. I am jealous!

Hi Mel – thanks!

Hi Jackie – thanks again for your time. And the questions may have been hard for you but the answers are all awesome!

Rae – yes we totally need to go for another visit. We’re overdue 🙂
Lex recently posted..Quay, The RocksMy Profile

Reply

Geiso Mampell March 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm

Dear Jackie:

Is there a cookery book of Malaysian food (delicacies) which you have compiled and which can be purchased some place? If not, can you at least send me the top 5 recipies of your “hit list”, please?

Kind regards,
Geiso

Reply

jackiemsydney August 5, 2013 at 11:19 am

Hi Geiso, sorry just saw your comment now! Yes I’ve just released a cookbook called Jackie M Truly Malaysian – Street Food at Home. It’s available via the EStore link on my website, or if you have problems ordering, just pop an email to sales@jackiem.com.au 🙂

Reply

Priscilla @ foodpornnation March 29, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Great Q & A.
A joy to find out a bit more about Jackie M.
Priscilla @ foodpornnation recently posted..Newmarket Hotel, St Kilda MelbourneMy Profile

Reply

milkteaxx April 5, 2013 at 10:18 am

jackie M is one of the most amazing people ive met! lovely interview~
milkteaxx recently posted..momofuku seiobo at The Star SydneyMy Profile

Reply

jackiemsydney August 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

Aw thanks! 🙂

Reply

Em April 23, 2013 at 11:57 pm

great interview; can’t wait to see more like this.

Reply

jackiemsydney August 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

She asked some really hard questions! 🙂

Reply

jackiemsydney August 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

Aw thanks Priscilla!

Reply

Pete September 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

Hiya Jackie!

I loved this read. I guess you would never know what makes a chef tick… Apart from the passion and love for food I guess? (Or they are just insane working 18 hour day’s! lol)

I am from the UK and love your posts. I was 16 (now 36). landed a job whilst I was at College at a Chinese Restaurant out in the sticks. Loved it, learned everything! <<<— Master with a cleaver! lol The girl's love it! ha

It was a mixed bunch from all around China, but there were two brothers from Malaysia. We all bunked up in a 3 bedroom apartment next to the main show. I stayed there for 6 weeks was awesome! Learned lot's of Chinese too!!!

I asked for a Satay one day and got the best meal I have ever had ever! Malay Satay I cannot get here in any takeaway, restaurant..Nobody knows how to do it?????? It's driving me crazy!!!! All I get is this sweet sticky disgusting mess. I am sure it's a simple recipe.. Can you please help! I love yoU!! :-))) (I took the recipes from everything else and forget about the meal i loved the most! <<<How Dumb!) lol

Reply

Jackie M September 17, 2013 at 6:57 am

Hello Pete aka master with a cleaver, thanks for your feedback!

I actually did a Google Hangout making Satay + Peanut sauce fairly recently – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNFldyqe-Wo – you should be able to glean some useful information from it if you can sit through the 30-odd minutes it ran for.
If you’re one of those who need to measure everything, it also makes an appearance in my recently-released cookbook – http://TrulyMalaysian.com -;)

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: