Sherson Lian, left, and Johnny Fua took vastly different paths to become the celebrity chefs they are today, but get together like a house on fire. (JG Photos/Sylviana Hamdani)
Two’s a Party for Celebrity Chefs Johnny Fua and Sherson Lian
MARCH 17, 2015
The old adage of “Too many cooks spoil the soup” is one of the few that continues to ring true. That’s doubly so when it comes to celebrity chefs and the different schools of thought and orthodoxies that they bring into the kitchen (not to mention egos). Hence the reason so many gifted chefs choose to strike out on their own despite working under the tutelage of a highly regarded mentor.
It takes a great deal of mutual understanding and cooperation for top chefs to work side-by-side in the same kitchen in real life. But whatever the secret, Malaysian celebrity chefs Johnny Fua and Sherson Lian seemed to have mixed together just the right ingredients as they took charge of the Penthouse Terrace at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Jakarta recently.
The pair were in town to dish up for the event “The Underground Supper Club — Food for the Soul,” hosted by DBS Treasures for its premium banking clients. Some 40 people turned up on that rather cold, rainy night, and were rewarded as the chefs worked hard to warm up the room, as well as the guests’ bellies, with their cooking.
While showcasing their culinary expertise in a cooking demo, Fua and Lian also joked around and made fun of each other, and their joviality proved contagious. Soon, the whole dining room was alive with laughter and chatter, and many of the guests asked to have their picture taken with the chefs.
Fua and Lian met during filming of the Asian Food Channel original production “Great Dinners of the World,” in 2011. During the show, the pair traveled with two other chefs to France and Scotland and cooked lavish dinners for celebrity guests. Fua and Lian, both from Malacca in Malaysia, quickly became good friends. Together, they now run a food consultancy, Cookery Chemistry Solution, as well as a semi-fine dining restaurant, Elegantology Gallery & Restaurant, in Kuala Lumpur.
In addition to working together, these chefs also ride their Harley-Davidson motorbikes together and roam the streets of Kuala Lumpur to let loose. The Peak caught up with Fua and Lian after their DBS dinner to talk about their passions, hobbies and personal goals.
With an educational background in architecture, Fua says he has a penchant for detail and perfection. He started his culinary career at Flamingo, a Mediterranean restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, moving quickly up from cook to commis cook and then chef de partie.
Fua later went on to work at a series of top-notch restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and lectured at the Flamenco International College before starring in the AFC show. He is currently the executive chef at Gtower in Kuala Lumpur.
Who inspired you to become a chef?
When I was really, really young, I always watched my grandma. I followed her to the market and watched her cook without any recipes. Noodles, fried rice and many [other] things [in] Nyonya style. She provided good food for everybody. That inspired me.
What does cooking mean to you?
Cooking is fun. I love doing it, even at home. I go grocery shopping with friends, switch on the music and cook for them.
What is a great dining experience to you?
Dining is more than just good food. It’s a catching-up time with your family and friends. It’s quality time.
What is it like working together with Sherson?
It’s really scary how close we are. We understand common things, share certain things and appreciate a lot of things. It all adds up together. That’s why we’re so close. We take care of each other. Even when I’m mad, he understands my intentions. And he also has the balls to say things to me.
Is this your first time in Jakarta?
It’s my first time. Crazy, right? But of course, I’ve been to Bali many, many times.
What do you think of Jakarta?
I think structure-wise, it’s just like KL or any other city. Traffic is the same, as bad as back home. What strikes me most is the people. Generally, they’re very happy. Everybody is very generous. It’s very genuine and very natural. I like that. It’s good. I should visit Jakarta more.
Have you tried any of the local food?
I’ve tried Nasi Padang at the mall here. The food kept coming. And I are with my bare hands. I love that. I think it’s very, very classic, with a good mix of tastes. As a chef, you certainly eat a lot of good food.
How do you keep fit?
I’ve just lost 12 kilograms in only three months. Last year, in July, I went to see my doctor, and she said that if I kept up my lifestyle, something bad was going to happen. So I decided to do the Blood Type Diet. I follow the program, portion control, eat early dinner before 5 p.m., no starch, no rice, and regular exercise. I feel very good now, much happier and more energetic. I think it’s not so much about losing weight. It’s about me having a good lifestyle and feeling healthy again.
Any personal goals this year?
Since I’m going 42 [years old] this year, I think that [goal] would definitely be health. I don’t want to be a millionaire or billionaire. I just want to live my life. I want to continue to be healthier and happier.
Lian has a natural flair with people. Being genuinely friendly and humorous, his TV shows “Dapur Selebrity” and “5 Rencah 5 Rasa” have always been highly rated in Malaysia. A culinary autodidact, he learned to cook at his family’s cafe in Kuala Lumpur, a small business that grew large.
In a couple of years, the family was managing five restaurants in the capital. They then decided to sell the business and set up a resort in their hometown of Malacca.
Lian enjoyed what he did at the cafe and watching it grow, and decided he wanted to become a chef. He started out as a trainee in the kitchens of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur for three months, before returning to Malacca and managing the kitchen at his family-owned resort.
But Lian’s heart is in show business. The 30-year-old chef now lives in Kuala Lumpur and manages Elegantology with Fua, while starring in a number of TV cooking shows.
Is this your first time in Jakarta?
It’s my second time. First time, I was so young, I couldn’t really remember. I think [the local culinary scene] is taking flight. You’ve got fantastic restaurants opening around. And it’s so wonderful because people are willing to pay here in Jakarta [for good food].
What’s it like in Malaysia?
The trend that’s picking up in KL now is toward independent cafes. Hipster cafes and all that, they’re spilling over throughout Malaysia, whereas here [in Jakarta], it’s more about class, fine-dining restaurants and very good food.
And I think it’s at the right stage, because the people are going out of the whole club/pub thing and going into proper restaurants.
Now that you and Johnny have a successful restaurant and culinary business, what’s your next project?
The next big project for us is gonna be the food truck. You know, big, massive lorry with a kitchen inside. We’re gonna travel, play some music and cook for people. It’s so cool. It’s so me.
What’s it like working with Johnny?
He’s a great guy. The reason I work with him is that with the experience he has, there’s a lot that I can learn from him. He went through culinary training. So, for me, working with him, I pick up what I couldn’t afford to go study before.
And it’s also a very interesting dynamic, because I do a lot of street food style and he’s very refined. So when we come together, the collaboration is like street food flavors refined.
With so much on your plate, how do you unwind?
I scuba dive. In Malaysia, I scuba dive in Sipadan and Pulau Perhentian. I’m yet to come to Indonesia to scuba dive. My friend went [scuba diving] at Raja Ampat. The pictures that he came back with are amazing. So, yeah, the next time I come, I’ll definitely go there to scuba dive.
I also have a band. I’m the lead singer. We crash a lot of weddings and music festivals.
What are your personal goals this year?
I want to start learning how to produce my own shows, cooking shows. I love show business. I love what happens behind the scenes. I want to be more involved in the business.