A dedicated chef

ONE MIGHT say that it was Pamela G. Kalaimagal's destiny to cook.

As the oldest of 16 ­siblings, Pamela was already helping out in the kitchen when she was just eight years old, cooking meals for her family at their home in Port Klang.

And that would have been the extent of her 'career', had it not been for a chance ­meeting with a man named Shelby Jarod.

Jarod, an American, was her father's ­immediate boss in an offshore rig company based in Klang. ­Occasionally, he would come to the family home and join them for a simple meal, which was often cooked by Pamela.

He enjoyed her cooking so much that when she turned 17, he hired her to prepare food for the company staff.

Soon after, when Jarod ­decided to move the company to ­Singapore, he brought Pamela along to work in the new ­company cafeteria.

Up to this point, ­Pamela, who is of Tamil and ­Malayalee descent, was only familiar with traditional South Indian cooking.

Undeterred, she quickly picked up some new recipes. Jarod himself taught her how to prepare western-style dishes such as enchiladas and lamb chops.

When she got married in the early 1990s, Pamela left ­Jarod's ­company to operate a cafe with her husband in Johor Baru for five years. Sadly, her husband passed away soon after, leaving Pamela with a young daughter to raise.

Her old boss Jarod, with whom she still kept in touch, then offered her a job cooking for his workers in his company in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

With a heavy heart, she left her child with family members, and worked in Riyadh for seven years.

Pamela then returned to Malaysia to continue ­caring for her daughter, ­taking on ­catering jobs and ­working in hotel ­kitchens.

Today, she is the ­senior chef de partie at Swiss Garden Hotel & Residences, Kuala Lumpur, while her now-adult daughter is ­studying law.

At the ­hotel's Flavours ­restaurant, she oversees the menu as well as cooks for the events and weddings held there.

­Talking about how her love of cooking began, Pamela said: "I learned ­cooking from my ­grandmothers, especially my maternal ­grandmother.

"[By] the time I was 12, I could cook curries and other dishes on my own ... I liked it when people said they enjoyed my food."

Whenever someone ­complemented young Pamela's cooking, it helped boost her self-esteem.

Pamela said she loves cooking so much, she could do it "non-stop, all day".

She added: "I also like to teach people. I don't like to keep recipes to myself."

Looking back on her ­culinary career, Pamela can't help but feel some fondness for her old boss Jarod, who helped her get started, and whom she saw as a father figure at the time.

Recalling that time in her life, when she learnt new styles of cooking, she said: "I never went to any culinary school. When I tasted something that I like, I would learn how to cook it.

"I can now cook Indian, Malay, Chinese, and Western dishes. As a chef, you must know how to do everything."

However, she does get to show off her Indian roots on Fridays, when she prepares the briyani promotion for lunch.

Patrons can enjoy a wide ­variety of briyani rice dishes (­including chicken, ­mutton, ­vegetable and fish), as well as ­accompanying dishes such as ­siting masala, prawn Sothy, and her much sought-after tomato rasam.

Pamela makes everything from scratch. For her Indian dishes, she grinds the wet masala spice paste herself, ensuring that her food tastes ­better when compared to ­using dry masala from a packet.

For a taste of her cooking, she prepares for us some of her specialities such as prawn ­Manchurian with raita, ­mutton masala, pilao rice, and her ­signature tomato rasam.

The mutton is tender and ­succulent while the prawns are not overwhelmingly spicy but the ­gravy that comes with the dish is truly ­superb.

Both dishes go well with the rice, that is aromatic on its own.

However, the star of the meal has to be the sublime rasam with its rich, mildly spicy ­tomato soup-like texture.

As for the secret to her good food, she says: "I don't do ­shortcuts. I will do a job until I am satisfied."