SHOWS that made Sherson Lian a household name over the past decade, such as 5 Rencah 5 Rasa, are currently on repeat, which is great for the many new home cooks who are trying new things using locally sourced ingredients.
“I am grateful because stuff that I have done in the past is being appreciated all over again. It reminds me of where I come from. Looking at the old stuff, I sometimes cringe at how I look and how I spoke,” said Lian during our telephone interview.
Nonetheless, he said it makes him feel good watching these shows again.
However if he was offered a chance to revisit certain episodes and re-do them (the way Alton Brown is revisiting his old Good Eats episodes with a Good Eats Reloaded), Lian would definitely jump at the opportunity.
“With a more mature and experienced me doing this, why not?”
Right now, many people who have never cooked before are picking up cooking tips and recipes, and trying their hand at preparing their own meals at home. Lian’s fuss-free style, which encourages people to try new things, is naturally embraced.
“Well, like I have always said, don’t be intimidated by the kitchen. Don’t be intimidated by not having a recipe. The [reason why] a lot of people stay away from cooking is because they are afraid of getting things wrong. [But] even I get stuff wrong sometimes, when I try to experiment with new things. You will not get things 100% all the time.”
He points out that chefs would pull things out of the fridge and try to experiment with the ingredients that they have. “You know, it doesn’t always work or turn out the way we expect, but that is all right.”
Lian’s greatest appeal is that his popularity transcends all ethnic groups. It also helps that he speaks Bahasa Malaysia fluently.
“I think it has to do with the way I was brought up. I was sent to a Malay (national type) school in Kajang. This is where I learned to speak Malay and most of my friends spoke Malay too.
“Even at my mother’s restaurant the most common language spoken was Malay. When I was called to do 5 Rencah 5 Rasa I did not think it would be in Malay. But my ability to speak Malay and not sound like a Chinaman – you know, like how people say ‘looks like mat salleh but sounds like belacan’ – worked very well for me.”
Lian said that he was exposed to various cuisines, especially Malay dishes, as his parents enjoyed eating them.
“I grew up eating Malay, Chinese and Indian food in almost equal proportion. So it helped that I was exposed to these different kinds of food. So when I did my television show, it was good that it all came together.”
Family Kitchen with Sherson (now into its third season) sees him working with his mum Ann. Though he has worked with other chefs before, the experience is a far cry from working with his mum.
“I used to work with my mum growing up, and it was never easy. Working with her at her family business and working with her in a cooking show is like the sky and earth.”
He says once he left the family business and moved to doing cooking shows and opening his own restaurant, there was a gap of about seven years where he did not work with his mum. So the show gave him a chance to work with her again.
“When I started working with my mum on the show it was a very different experience. It was more casual, it wasn’t so stressful because business was not involved. The years helped improve our relationship as mother and son. Doing the show was good for us.”
Lian was featured in recent ads showing him reviewing restaurants and undergoing the whole screening process before entering and sitting alone at a table in restaurants that would have been packed pre-pandemic.
Lian said he can relate to what is going on in the restaurant scene, because he has his own business as well.
“What we have to do is find a way to pivot, and find a new way of doing things. It will take a year or year-and-a-half to find a vaccine that is readily available for everyone. Only then can things go back to normal.”
He thinks more establishments will go leaner in terms of their operations. However, he believes that things should improve in terms of their delivery partners, as certain companies have monopolised the business and their business model is very cost-heavy for restaurants.
“I am also considering a new brand online. I have set up my own catering business. I have a facility for which I am paying rent but not using. I am trying to come up with my own cloud kitchen and setting up two different brands. How well [it] works depends on having a good delivery partner that does not take so much from the revenue.”
For a person who cooks and enjoys all sorts of good food, we wondered what was comfort food for him.
“Comfort food is the hawkers, the warungs, the banana leaf [restaurants]. I grew up with my mum and dad enjoying this kind of food. It was the hawkers or the stall under the tree. This is the kind of food I grew up eating.”
As for his future plans, Lian said: “Prior to the MCO I was in the process of setting up my own YouTube channel. The studio is incomplete at the moment.”
He is posting things on Instagram trying to gauge the audience’s reaction.
“All these years, I never posted any cooking stuff on social media. The response has been encouraging, and it helps get them warmed up for what is to come.”