A Malaysian-born chef has brought us tremendous pride by winning MasterChef UK's Champion of Champions episode with two well-known Malaysian dishes
Ping Coombes, who hails from Ipoh and now lives in Bath, England, stunned the judges in the New Year's Eve special featuring the return of five former MasterChef winners to compete against each other.
Coombes won MasterChef UK back in 2014, then a homecook and full-time mother, with dishes inspired by her Malaysian upbringing – nasi lemak and wonton soup.
This time, the owner of a restaurant called Ping's Makan Club and author of her own cookbook named Malaysia: Recipes from a Family Kitchen, went against other celebrated homecook-turned-chefs: 2011 champion Tim Anderson, 2017 champion Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, 2018 champion Kenny Tutt, and 2019 champion Irini Tzortzoglou.
The former MasterChef champions were given two challenges to complete: one, to create a comforting dish rooted in a memory and two, the best two courses from their repertoires
Not holding back, Coombes delved deep into her Malaysian heritage, preparing modified versions of chilli pan mee, claypot chicken rice, and ais kacang.
It was her claypot chicken rice and ais kacang in the second round that stunned the judges and won her the title 'Champion of the Champions'.
For her claypot chicken, Coombes showed off her restauranteur skills and made a guinea fowl ballotine stuffed with sausage and shiitake mushroom rice, and topped it with a lime, ginger, and chilli gel.
It was served with shards of crispy rice — only Malaysians know that is the best crunchy part at the bottom of a claypot! — bits of dried shrimps, and a brown, gingery sauce.
"That is a beautiful, beauitful dish in every single way," said judge Gregg Wallace after tasting the guinea fowl dish
"Your bird is cooked perfectly and inside is soft, salty rice. And we have a sauce that is almost fruity, and then the heat of ginger," he critiqued.
The other judge, John Torode, wholly agreed. "You've done something quite magical here," he told a smiling Coombes.
"You made crispy rice on the side with little gems of dried shrimp running all the way through, that every so often I taste it and I feel like I'm on the streets of Malaysia. It looks beautiful and it tastes delicious."
As for the ais kacang, the judges again did not hold back and completely finished their servings
Coombes took the simple roadside dessert up a notch by preparing a bowl of rose-flavoured meringue shards and topped it off with coconut milk-infused shaved ice and a dollop of a sweet-salty corn mousse.
"I can't leave that thing alone!" said Wallace, "Your food's lovely."
Meanwhile, Torode jokingly asked Wallace if he had finished his bowl and said, "Love the coconut ice, absolutely delicious. The texture from the sweet corn is incredible."
In an interview after the episode, Coombes said she was so relieved to hear the positive comments from the judges
"Putting [myself] out there again, open to criticism, but to get those comments was like absolutely out of this world," the 40-year-old said, as quoted by MetroUK.
"I can't really believe it all… It's like a dream. I'm really, really happy."