When I think of Malaysian food I think of the many tastes, smells and flavours found at the markets, hawker stalls and restaurants of Malaysia. Maybe it’s the best nasi dagang found on an obscure street in Ampang; or an authentically cooked fish head noodle soup; or perhaps the everyday roti chanai with just the right consistency and fluffiness. Whatever the particular dish, for me, it conjures up the exoticism that is Malaysia. So when I was fortunate enough to be invited to the house of Audrey Lim – cookbook author, food blogger, food stylist and photographer – I cleared my diary and my desk and made sure not to be late. Well, not too late, this is Malaysia after all.
When I arrived what I found was a home and garden that was just as they should be: a welcoming, peaceful environment devoted to love of food and family. I got the sense that this was a person who walked her talk, everything in just the right place and stage to be able to cook fresh and delicious Asian cuisine.
So, where did it all begin?
Before children, Audrey had worked in the hotel industry and as a secretary in an architecture firm where she picked up some graphics skills, however, she left it all behind to start a family. After spending 4 years at home with her daughter, Audrey was looking for a new challenge to supplement motherhood. “I started by reading a book called Reinventing Yourself. It tells you to look at your life backwards, as you see what you want people to talk about at your funeral. It got me thinking.” And from this beginning Audrey new that she was looking for something different. “I like to cook. I like to de-stress in the kitchen, that’s what I do best. ”
Photo: Audrey Lim
Because Audrey cooks every day her brother-in-law suggested a blog, something to use as to document the things that she cooks. She had to force herself to take photos. “My first few photographs were horrible, they were yellow, they were blurred” says Audrey. “But then after a while you start to relax and look at your food in a totally different way. You cook to distress and when you present your food you say ‘this is my end product and I want it to be enjoyed, so how would you look at it.’” With little knowledge of using her camera she practiced her photography and food presentation.
Photo: Audrey Lim
From there Audrey asked her self, ‘what next?’. She was looking at her life in milestones, and was rapidly heading towards her next big one. What she came up with was the idea that: “It would be nice if I had my own cookbook, like a journal and give to to my children.”
And if by prophecy, two months before her 45th birthday the honourable Mr Oon emailed her from out of the blue. Mr Oon Yeoh from MPH Publishing was looking for unknown cooks for a cookbook and he had followed Audrey’s blog. After a meeting he told her that he wanted to give her a book deal. That was not all he said, he also wanted Audrey to be his “main food photographer and food stylist”, Audrey recalls. And, Audrey’s response? “You’re kidding me, I’ve never styled food before”.
It didn’t stop Mr Oon, or Audrey embarking on a new beginning. Audrey’s supportive husband took a much more pragmatic approach when she told him of her new role. “OK, I’ll get you a new camera”, he offered.
Photo: Audrey Lim
From cooking, photographing and blogging at home Audrey began her new career. But what inspired the recipes in Audrey Lim’s Malaysian tapas? “I enjoy eating in small portions,” says Audrey. She follows the ethos of easy recipes and small portions, following the healthy eating habits of Mireille Guiliano in her book French Women Don’t Get Fat; and food inspired by her mother, her grandmother, her grandmother-in-law and Malaysia.
As her interest in food continued to grow she began to look at the ways things were grown and found that sometimes the methods of growing were ‘repellent’. “So why not start an attainable and sustainable garden – you have to start somewhere”. And just like everything else she set her mind to, a garden full of edible plants came to fruition.
Photos: Audrey Lim
Amongst other books photographed by Audrey Lim are Melissa and Michelle Pong’s The Fat Spoon Cookbook, Goo Chui Hoong’s Lite Malaysian Favourites and Lost Recipes of Malaysia. Audrey’s Malaysian Tapas can be found at book stores or MPH online. Also do visit http://www.audreycooks.com/audreycooks/