It was a shock defeat many Australians have never recovered from when Poh Ling Yeow narrowly missed out on winning the first season of MasterChef Australia.
But in the years since that reality TV appearance, Yeow has become one of the country’s favourite names in food. She’s helmed the ABC cooking series Poh’s Kitchen, published cookbooks and launched the gourmet food stall Jamface by Poh at the farmers’ markets in her hometown of Adelaide. Last year she even made a return to MasterChef – before being devastatingly eliminated once again. Outside the kitchen she also keeps busy as a painter, regularly sharing her work on Instagram.
This month Yeow is back on Australian screens alongside another MasterChef alumni, Adam Liaw. The pair have joined forces for Adam and Poh’s Malaysia in Australia, which screens on Thursdays at 8.30pm on SBS Food. The pair’s shared heritage and upbringing is the basis for the travel and cooking show, which sees them visiting regions around Australia, creating Malaysian dishes with local twists.
In her all culinary explorations, Yeow has come to rate one kitchen implement above the rest: the whisk. Here, she tells us why she considers that tool so essential, as well as the story of two other important belongings.
What I’d save from my house in a fire
I’d grab all my sketchbooks. My entire art career from uni until now is all there, in idea form – 24 years of every sketch before a painting. There’s not many things that chart my growth as consistently.
I’m horribly erratic with writing in my diary – I often find it really tedious or too revealing to commit what I’m feeling into words, but letting the stories spill out on to the canvas is different. It feels like the secrets are contained and people can only find them if they feel them. If I lost everything else, the sketchbooks would remind me that I could create it all again.
My most useful object in the kitchen
It’s a whisk. I love this item so much I have considered getting it tattooed on one of my wrists for years. The time is ripe, I’m accelerating towards mid-life. Perhaps it can be a gift to myself when I hit 50.
It’s extra fascinating for me because I didn’t grow up with one, even though Mum was a savage baker. She’d always go electric. To me it represents French technique and refinement, something that’s become central to how I love to cook. I often ponder about its invention and ability to transform the texture of ordinary ingredients into things like magical, cloud-like meringue, feather-light sponges or cream aerated until it’s stiff and able to be shaped, piped and manipulated into beautiful forms for cakes and pastries.
In savoury cooking it makes silken gravy, smooth crepe batters, then emulsifies mayonnaise and hollandaise. At Jamface we make kilograms of custard every week, and there we have at least a dozen whisks. It’s also great for rough mashing if you want to keep some texture in things like avo or potato. Have I promoted its virtues enough?
The item I most regret losing
The engagement ring from my first marriage. My ex in-laws were the kindest, most generous people. At the time Matt and I were still at uni, often spotted scraping around the footwell of his Holden Camira for petrol money, so his mum, Margaret, decided to pass down her engagement ring to us.
It was perfect – not too flashy; a vintage-looking, rectangular-cut aquamarine, flanked by three small diamonds on two sides and set in white gold. One of our frequent hangouts was the McDonald’s on West Terrace in Adelaide. It was close to the night spots, so it was great for people watching. Early on in the game we had a brilliant night of conversation there and it just stuck. We were Mormons at the time, and with alcohol being out of the question, we’d head there for fries as a post-going out ritual.
The ring suffered an ignominious demise – I went to the toilets, washed my hands and left it sitting on top of the syringe disposal unit. I broke into a cold sweat when I realised what had happened. We made a U-turn but it was of course gone and, upon telling Margaret what had happened, she replied in classic Margaret fashion: “The thing that matters is you have your health!” Sadly, she is no longer with us, but I’ll always treasure her Irish-Catholic stoicism.