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Cover story Come cook with me by
TAN BEE HONG
As part of its first concept store in the country, Zwilling J.A. Henkels offers its Twin Cooking Class. Classroom chef Azura Othman shows TAN BEE HONG a lively time punctuated with tips, laughs and friendly chatter
IN the midst of our conversation, Azura Othman’s mobile phone rings. She excuses herself and two minutes later, explains that the caller was her mother and bursts out laughing.
“I told her I am doing a demonstration and a Press interview right now and she wants to know if I swore,” she says. “I told her ‘no, mum, I didn’t swear’.”
The first Zwilling J.A. Henckels chef in the country, Azura has come a long way since her “swearing” days. “Yes, I used to moody,” she admits. “But not anymore. I have a different role now and I adapt to the changes. I used to cook, serve and impress customers but now my role is about educating people in the culinary arts.”
Azura has always been the kind of person who knows exactly what she wants and gets it. Only 27 years old, she is a law graduate who now dishes out advice on spices and oven temperatures instead of judicial matters. “Actually, when I was seven, I had sort of made up my mind to be a beautiful doctor or a beautiful chef,” says Azura, chuckling as she adds that the emphasis had always been on the word “beautiful”.
“I have always wanted to run a food corporation or at least have my own kitchen.”
The urge to cook became even stronger when her father passed away when she was 11 years old and her mother decided to go back to school and do her masters.
“I guess I was feeling very sad as well as worried about our finances and what would happen to me. But I wouldn’t talk about it so instead, I poured all my feelings into food,” says Azura. “I was fine as long as I had flour, eggs and sugar. I just baked and baked for my brother.”
Two years later, at age 13, she found herself packed off to boarding school in England. She spent almost all her growing years in Europe and went to law school in 1996. “I didn’t like it so I quit and went into culinary science instead,” she says. But at her mother’s insistence, she resumed her law studies in 2005 and finally graduated.
Azura has been lucky. She has worked with some of the top chefs in Europe, including Michelin chefs like Karl Obauer in Salzburg and a master pâtissier who’s a Culinary Olympics champion. “Actually, I think Michelin stars are overrated,” she confides. “We have so many talented chefs here in Asia, including Malaysia, but they don’t have Michelin stars. For instance, I learned the finer points of hot cooking from a local chef when I joined Regent KL’s Oggi Italian Restaurant as one of its pioneer team.”
For a while, she also lived the jet-set life. An English property tycoon loved her cooking so much he hired her as personal chef on his yacht. So, with a team of six in the kitchen, Azura cooked her way from Malaga to Ibiza. “Oh, it was a lot of fun and travelling. Often, we catered to Hollywood celebrities on board.”
A serious look clouds her face fleetingly as she admits there have been periods when her life didn’t always smell like roses. In the early days, she got yelled at often in hotel kitchens. Even her peers in culinary school gave her a rough time, sneering as they told her that she would soon quit as she was not good enough and that “a girl would never be able to make it”. But instead of deflating a fighter like Azura, such derision only served to inspire her to do well. Today, although Azura is trained in pastries, she is equally at home with all aspects of the kitchen as well as all kinds of cuisine.
Perhaps her extensive travels have stood her in good stead. She has been to places all over Europe and Asia. “I love the Indo Chine region, especially Cambodia. I get so inspired. I hope to go back in February to teach a group or orphans to bake, so they will have a skill to earn a living.”
For Azura, inspiration comes at strange hours. “Sometimes, I get nightmares and wake up. Then I’d get myself a coffee and think. Often inspiration comes at such moments,” she says, a whimsical smile lighting up her bright and cheerful face.
CHICKEN WITH PROVENCALE SAUCE
1 whole chicken or breasts 6 tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
750g canned tomatoes, chopped
1 fresh tomato, chopped
125g canned black olives, strained Red, yellow and green capsicum
1 tsp thyme, oregano, parsley ½ cup pessilade (chopped garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and parsley)
1. Marinade chicken with freshly-ground black pepper.
2. Dice peppers, removing bitter pith.
3. Heat olive oil in deep pan and sear chicken, breast side down. Cover and let cook 7-8mins. Turn chicken over to cook back.
4. Add onions and half the garlic. Sweat onions 1-2mins and add tomatoes. Sprinkle with thyme.
5. Add peppers, olives and dash of oregano. Cook 1 minute and add parsley.
6. Cover and simmer on low heat for 8-10mins or until cooked. Serve with crusty bread.
Pour the rich chocolate pudding into ramekin moulds or espresso coffee cups.
RICH CHOCOLATE PUDDING
250g cooking chocolate
1 tsp vanilla essence
Method: 1. Chop chocolate and put into bowl with butter and milk. Place bowl over boiling water to melt chocolate. 2. When it has melted, put aside to cool down. Add more milk if it’s too thick. 3. Add eggs, one by one, to the cool chocolate stirring continuously. Then pour into ramekin moulds or espresso coffee cups. Steam on high heat for 15 minutes. 4. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Decorate with strawberries or ice cream. To serve cold, simply put pudding in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Twin cooking classes
IT’S not new in Europe but the store at The Pavilion KL is the first Zwilling J.A. Henckels concept store in Malaysia where customers not only come in to view and buy products but they can also watch cooking demonstrations and see displays of the products in a home setting. The German brand has been producing quality knives, cutlery and kitchen ware for 227 years. “My favourite is the Professional S,” says Azura Othman who joined the company two months ago as its trainer chef. “We do demonstration classes on weekends and we have specific classes on set days,” she says. The store has an ultra-modern, fully-equipped kitchen right in the centre where Azura conducts classes. The Twin Cooking Classes, held on Fridays, are not merely cooking demonstrations nor are designed to “push” Zwilling products. Azura offers tips as she goes along and generally, it’s meant to be an afternoon of camaraderie. “I believe cooking should be fun and easy and I want to help make life easier for people who want to cook at home,” she says, grinding pepper to season a chicken. Azura is showing us how to impress family and friends this festive season with easy recipes for Chicken With Provencale Sauce and Rich Chocolate Pudding. “This is something so easy to make and so delicious you wonder why you ever bothered with turkey. If you’re just making it for yourself or your family, you can use just breasts or thighs instead of whole chicken,” she says, flipping the chicken over in the pot to sear the other side. “Smell that,” she urges, taking a deep breath herself. “It reminds me of Spain in summer.” Sadly, I can’t say if it does as I’ve never been in Spain in summer or at anytime of the year. But one sniff and I can hear my tummy growl. On Dec 19, Azura’s class is on Sweet Christmas (RM89), highlighting confections that make great gifts or as dessert — gingerbread and sticky date pudding with toffee sauce.
TWIN COOKING CLASSES Zwilling J.A Henckels Concept Store Level 6, The Pavilion, KL Tel: 03-2142 1815