Exclusive Interview with Jason Yeoh

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Photo courtesy of ASIAN FOOD CHANNEL

We had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Jason Yeoh, aka Axian, the popular TV Host from Asian Food Channel about the F&B industry. We asked him about the trends in the industry and about what he’s learned from the experience of traveling to different parts of Asia. In “Taste with Jason”, the travelling gourmet drops by popular food establishments in Malaysia to discover and reveal the country’s best culinary secrets. Currently, Jason produces and hosts Axian’s Food Adventures and Taste with Jason, where he unearths some of Malaysia’s most unique hidden gems and unravels the secrets behind these mouth-watering delicacies. He also hosts Jason Tastes Asia where he ventures out of Malaysia and explores the Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines uncovering the region’s multi-ethnic culture and heritage the best way he knows how – through its food and people. A qualified electronics engineer and TV producer, Jason is dedicated to documenting the heritage, stories and culture of the dishes that we eat, and believes that it is a way of “recording history”. This has led to him achieving regional success and he’s earned the titles of Best TV Talk Show, Best Lifestyle Programme in the Malaysia National TV Broadcasting Awards, and Asian TV Awards. With the assistance of AFC, we bring you the following insights into Axian’s journey:

“More and more restaurants are catering to customers’ demand for “Instagram-worthy” meals, serving up dishes that are boldly coloured & artfully constructed…”

Besides the popular Penang Char Kway Teow and Penang Laksa, what other dishes should people try when they visit Penang?
My grandma is a Nyonya. In my family, we grew up eating Nyonya cuisine frequently. Some Nyonya dishes many families in Penang enjoy eating are Acar Awak (Nyonya pickles), Jiu Hu Char (fried jicama with shredded cuttlefish), Assam Prawns, Curry Kapitan Chicken, Fish in Gulai Tumis Assam, Sambal Hae Bi (Dried Prawn Sambal), Perut Ikan (Nyonya Stewed Fish Stomach With Vegetables), Hu-Pao (Nyonya Steamed Otak-otak), Nasi Ulam (herbed rice salad) and a vast variety of Nyonya kuih (dessert). These dishes are less known to tourists and should certainly be tried.

Thanks to the rich multicultural diversity of the island, Penang Nyonya dishes are also influenced by Thai cuisine and South Indian flavors due to geographical proximity. As a result, many dishes listed above incorporate sweet-sour or tangy flavors.

In Axian’s Food Adventures and Jason Tastes Asia, you explored some of the most unique and delicious delicacies in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Were there any commonalities in food shared by these different countries? What were some of the most memorable dishes that you tasted?
For Jason Tastes Asia, I traveled across Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines in an immersive journey to uncover the region’s multi-ethnic culture and heritage influences. It was an eye-opening experience to learn how closely-knit we are as a bigger region and how deeply-influenced we are by the food cultures of different countries. For example, I saw many noodle stalls in the Philippines, noodles are called Pancit in Tagalog, and it turns out this name was derived from the Hokkien word “bian sit (扁食)”, which is what Cantonese call wantons (雲吞). Similarly, in Vietnam, I got to watch a grandmother make authentic Vietnamese rice rolls by pounding rice millet and rolling the dough. This is very similar to Chee Cheong Fun, which is commonly found in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

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Can you comment on the trends in the F&B industry in South East Asia? What changes, innovations or breakthroughs have you observed in recent years?
Some key trends I have observed in recent years include healthy eating, high-quality food, dining in malls, visual eating or dining in fashionable cafes and restaurants, and online food ordering & delivery.

Busy lifestyles and a growing focus on fitness and wellbeing have fuelled a growing demand for healthy eating and high quality food such as homegrown produce, organic options and made-to-order products. As shopping malls spring up throughout Southeast Asia, food retailers are quick to snap up space to cater for hungry shoppers needing a quick bite to eat.

Additionally, as flavor has always been the focus for innovation, more and more restaurants are catering to customers’ demand for “Instagram-worthy” meals, serving up dishes that are boldly coloured, artfully constructed and sometimes just cool. Nowadays, eating has become all about how visually appealing food and the dining environment is. This has pushed restaurants and chefs to be more creative with presentation.

The convenience of online food ordering and delivery is also fast becoming popular, as people are increasingly looking to purchase and consume food without leaving the comfort of their offices and homes.

“Spending time with people of such diverse backgrounds has helped me develop larger perspectives on ways of living and doing things…”

You have tasted food from so many great restaurants in the region. What do you think are some of the key ingredients that make a restaurant successful?
I would say it’s related to how much love, kindness and joy that you sow into the food and your restaurant services. Food cooked with love provides nutrition for body, mind and spirit.

What have your travel experiences and the food programmes taught you about life?
The travel experiences I have had through filming my shows and through personal holidays have taught me a great deal about better understanding others and myself. You will see from the shows I have filmed that I always make it a point to live among the locals and to share a unique experience with the viewers like never before. For example, I would interact with the locals and observe their ways of living, visit wet markets, and become familiar with their rhythm of everyday life. Spending time with people of such diverse backgrounds has helped me develop larger perspectives on ways of living and doing things, instead of what we’re generally used to. Traveling is always a good break from our usual routines.

What can your followers in Brunei expect from you in 2017?
I will be more active in cooking in the kitchen this year, showcasing skills and recipes I have learned from my many travel experiences!

When are you going to do a food programme about Brunei?
I am always up for an adventure and I am always willing to try something new. Who knows where I will go next!

This article is proudly brought to you with support from Asian Food Channel.
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This article was published in the Jan-Feb 2017 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!