The story of Madam Kwan

MADAM KWAN has always been known for her flair for cooking, as well as being a tough-as-nails restaurateur.

Kwan Swee Lian was born in 1934, in Kluang, Johor, to Hakka migrants, who lived through the Japanese Occupation.

Kwan had held different jobs and occupations, including being a beauty salon owner before getting into the food business.

Her highs and lows, tragedies and triumphs are now captured in the book Madam Kwan: Her Untold Story and Beloved Recipes written by granddaughter Catherine Foo.

During the book launch, Kwan who speaks Cantonese, was asked how she feels about the book.

"Okay lor," she said simply, drawing laughter from the audience.

Her advice to aspiring restaurateurs is to follow their passion as everyone loves to eat.

According to daughter-in-law Maureen Ooi, who along with Kwan's son Rudy help run the restaurants, the idea to write the book came up when she noticed how her mother-in-law's stories moved the journalists who were doing a story on her.

"She has had an extraordinary and tough life. It was always at the back of my mind to do this book on her," said Ooi, who added that the idea came to her 10 years ago.

It was over a family dinner that Ooi suggested to her niece, Foo, to try her hand at writing the book.

"Honestly speaking, the story writes itself," said Foo who has always enjoyed writing when she was in school and was a natural choice to pen her grandmother's story instead of engaging an outsider.

"She had so many high and low points in her life so it was quite an interesting story to recount."

There are also 25 recipes that Kwan has selected to be featured in the book.

These recipes, said Kwan, were chosen because she felt they were outstanding and she wanted to share them with Malaysians.

Among these recipes are such favourites as Hainanese chicken chop, creamy curry fish head, rojak buah, bubur cha cha and nasi Bojari.

The recipes take up a large part of the book because they are also accompanied by beautiful pictures.

The rest of the book tells Kwan's story from her birth to her many endeavours as well as her family.

When asked why not just write a memoir, Foo said that food has always been associated with her grandmother and, hence, it was a natural thing to combine her life story with some of her favourite recipes.

Foo said a recent health scare involving herself and then her grandmother made her want to wrap the book up as soon as they could.

Madam Kwan: Her Untold Story and Beloved Recipes is self published and retails at RM89. It will only be sold at Madam Kwan restaurants as they are meant more for her customers, loyal patrons and supporters.
Kwan also launched her specially-blended Madam Kwan's curry paste at the same event which costs RM13.90 per pack.