Chill Out, Malaysians. Here's What The Judges Actually Meant In The Crispy Rendang Hoo-Ha
Never has a nation been more united than we are now... and all because two judges from MasterChef UK criticised a Malaysian-born contestant for the not-at-all "crispy" skin of her chicken rendang
ICYMI, Bristol-based Zaleha Kadir Olpin was eliminated in the knockout stage of the MasterChef UK quarterfinals after apparently falling short with her nasi lemak, particularly her chicken rendang side dish.
In the assessment of Zaleha's dish, presenter Gregg Wallace was widely reported to have remarked that Zaleha's "chicken skin isn't crispy" and cannot be eaten because "all the sauce is on the skin", while his co-presenter and celebrity chef John Torode told her that the chicken was "tough" and "not really flavoursome".
Needless to say, the fury of Malaysians and their culinary frenemies from Singapore and Indonesia descended on the judges' "crispy" verdict of Zaleha's chicken rendang. Even our prime minister dished out some shade of his own:
Like everyone else, I too had a hard time hiding the "WTF" expression from my face when I found out about #RendangGate. In what universe was rendang ever crispy lah, amirite?!
That is, until I came across this comment on Twitter:
Well, it sounded a little patronising, but I gotta admit those are valid points
Think about it for a second. As Malay Mail columnist Erna Mahyuni puts it, rendang typically requires hours of simmering "for the sauce to properly dry out and the meat to fully absorb the blend of spices".
So think about it for a second - is attempting to cook rendang in such a short, competitive timeframe the smartest thing to do?
At this point, I have yet to see the video of the judges' assessment of Zaleha's dish, so I thought I'd do so with a somewhat objective mindset.
Here's what I realised upon watching the full video - most reports did not exactly cover the judges' entire exchange with Zaleha, nor were their remarks during the decision-making process included to reflect their overall verdict
In the taste-test, this was Wallace's initial impression: "(I) like the sambal with the sweet prawns, coz the sambal itself is sweet. Love the idea of salty flavour coming from those crispy fried anchovies, that is intense."
He also said that he likes Zaleha's "rendang flavour, that's like a coconut sweetness", only to follow up with the now infamous line - "the chicken skin isn't crispy, it can't be eaten, but all the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat".
Next up, Torode - who was involved in a 10-part travel series on Malaysian food a few years ago - told Zaleha that having the chicken rendang on the side is a "mistake".
"It hasn't had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and fall apart. Instead the chicken itself is just tough and it's not really flavoursome."
Later on, as both judges were deciding on who to eliminate, Wallace elaborated that he was disappointed that Zaleha's "chicken skin wasn't cooked"
While Torode enjoyed the dish and said Zaleha "made a great nasi lemak", Wallace lamented that her chicken wasn't cooked and unfortunately, "the flavour of the rendang sauce was on the skin".
Side note, if you're familiar with any of the MasterChef shows, you'd know that undercooked (and even overcooked) chicken almost always guarantees that it's game over for that particular contestant.
IMHO, I think we've become too fixated on that one "crispy" remark that we've neglected to look at the rest of the (bigger) picture
Unfortunately, in the massive wave of comments roasting the judges, not many (me included) bothered to look at the issue objectively. That's not to say no one did; I actually came across some pretty objective critiques about Zaleha's dish on social media:
On a similar vein, Facebook user and food enthusiast David Soong wrote a super comprehensive analysis of Zaleha's dish as well as the intent behind the judges' statements, complete with what he thinks should have prepared in the tight time limit instead of a time-consuming chicken rendang. You can read it here.
Unpopular opinion aside, I totally agree that "crispy" was definitely the wrong word to use in the taste-test. In fact, even Wallace himself has admitted his mistake in a recent interview.
In an appearance on Good Morning Britain today, 4 April, Wallace admitted that "'crispy' was the wrong word", but maintained that Zaleha was not eliminated because her chicken skin wasn't crispy.
He explained, "I didn’t mean it should be fried, like fried chicken. What I meant was it wasn’t cooked. It simply wasn’t cooked. It was white and flabby."
With that said, Wallace maintained that Zaleha was not eliminated simply because her chicken skin was not crispy
"She didn’t go out because her skin wasn’t crispy. She went out because the other cooks were better," he said.
"Rest assured, the best cooks will always go through."
At this point, you may be seeing the issue in a new light... or you may still refuse to let it go until the judges apologise for their "crispy" boo-boo. It's entirely your call, though those in the latter camp might wanna ask themselves this:
Are we expecting Wallace and Torode to apologise for using the wrong adjective ("crispy") to describe how Zaleha's chicken skin should be... or for eliminating Zaleha from 'MasterChef UK' because her chicken was undercooked?
Let us know your stance in the comments section below.
In the meantime, BBC has also released a statement in defence of the MasterChef UK judges' "crispy" chicken rendang remark:
John Torode may have deleted his rather ignorant "Namaste" tweet about the origin of rendang, but whatever is posted on the Internet stays forever: