CTExclusive: Chef Diana Chan On Malaysian Vegetarian Food, Women Ruling The World’s Kitchens & More

by Tejashee Kashyap
CTExclusive: Chef Diana Chan On Malaysian Vegetarian Food, Women Ruling The World’s Kitchens & More

In the realm of culinary artistry, where flavours dance and textures enthral, Chef Diana Chan stands as a beacon of innovation and excellence. An extraordinary chef with many hats to wear, her life in the spotlight has not slowed down since she won MasterChef Australia in 2017, and she has since hosted several cooking shows and written a cookbook. She found time to speak with us while she was in India for an eggless masterclass showcasing a few tantalising Malaysian dishes in collaboration with Conosh, a community of food lovers.

Diana Chan On Global Culinary Influences

Diana hasn’t slowed down since winning the world’s most popular reality show, taking the cooking world by storm and earning traction and renown far beyond her Masterchef title. “MasterChef Australia has given me a platform to pursue my passion for food. I have been fortunate to have travelled to many countries and cooked in many different kitchens because of this,” she says.

Her time spent in various countries has enriched her palate and broadened her culinary perspective. This global influence is evident in the eclectic array of dishes she presents, each telling a story of cultural fusion and gastronomic adventure. From her roots in Malaysia to the global stage, she has carved a path marked by creativity, innovation, and a deep love for food. “I’m always learning when I travel. It’s so great to see what locals eat. I love bold and rich flavours in the cooking here that I can incorporate with Australian ingredients,” she says as she makes waves in the culinary world globally.

Further, she talks to Curly Tales about Malaysian food,  her bond with India, and everything about food and beyond:

1.  In your experience, how has Malaysian vegetarian cuisine evolved or adapted over time?

Diana Chan: I think we have a long way to go. We do good Chinese and Indian vegetarian food but not much else. I was quite surprised to learn that Pune has a large vegetarian population and I was really excited to bring a vegetarian and
non-vegetarian Malaysian menu to the Conosh dinners at Conrad Pune so that I can introduce Malay flavours to a new audience.

2. Are there any lesser-known Malaysian vegetarian specialities that you think more people should discover?

I think you can have most Malaysian food but remove the element of fish or dried shrimp to make it vegetarian. Malaysian food is highly influenced by dried ingredients i.e. dried shrimp and shrimp paste that provides umami to the dish,
unlike Indian food which uses spice as the main flavouring.

For the Conosh 7-course dinners at Conrad Pune, I did a vegetarian Laksa course, which is one of my favourite dishes in Malay cuisine. I did a spicy tamarind broth that I loved. I think it favoured the Indian palette.

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3. What was the driving force behind your fascination with Indian cuisine?

I think I had an instant connection to Indian food growing up in Malaysia. We have a lot of good Indian restaurants there and my mum cooked it at home for us when we were kids as well.

4. So, what Indian food would you recommend to non-Indians?

I would recommend everything because I like everything, but if you had an amateur palette I would say start with butter naan and dal makhani.

5. Do you believe there are specific cuisines or cooking styles that empower or celebrate women in the kitchen?

I believe that each traditional cuisine celebrates women. Women are the traditional home cooks and most of us would have learnt from our mothers or grandmothers.

6. Are there any unique perspectives or qualities that women bring to the world of cooking and food?

I think women are strong-minded, and diligent and get the work done regardless of any circumstance. Women are also naturally born to nurture and care for others so we tend to take a softer approach.

7. In your opinion, how can the culinary industry become more inclusive and supportive of female chefs?

I think it’s highly influenced by generational and geographical factors. I’ve seen many kitchens lately that are women-led and it’s incredibly refreshing.

As Diana continues to evolve as a chef, entrepreneur, and community advocate, the world eagerly awaits the next chapter in the culinary saga of Diana Chan.

Cover image credits: Instagram/Diana Chan

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