AFTER triggering uproar among netizens in at least four Southeast Asian countries, popular cooking show MasterChef UK appears to have denied its judge had criticised a Malaysian contestant’s chicken rendang for not having crispy skin, which was among the reasons that led to her elimination.
Despite the footage of the episode spreading online, a spokesperson for the BBC show said at no point did Gregg Wallace mention that the chicken rendang prepared by Zaleha Kadir Olpin should have crispy skin, according to the Malay Mail Online.
“Gregg wasn’t suggesting that the dish should traditionally have crispy skin — he was saying that he couldn’t experience the flavors of the dish as it was presented,” a MasterChef UK spokesperson was quoted as saying.
“MasterChef has always celebrated international cuisine and on this occasion, our judges’ comments were relevant to the dish that had been cooked on the show.”
Wallace’s remarks on the traditional Malay dish, supported by his co-host John Torode, led to the 48-year-old Zaleha’s removal from the show at the quarterfinals stage.
“The chicken skin isn’t crispy, it can’t be eaten,” said Wallace. “All the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat.”
The statement added that Zaleha didn’t leave the competition because the chicken skin of her rendang wasn’t crispy, but she went out because other cooks were better, the MMO report said.
The blunder saw netizens from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brunei united to defend the hugely popular chicken rendang dish.
Rendang is traditionally made with chicken or beef that is slow cooked with Asian herbs and coconut milk.
Britain’s ambassador in Malaysia, Vicki Treadell, took to Twitter to weigh in on the matter.
“Rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish not to be confused with Indonesian options … It is never crispy and should also not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak,” she said.
KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra and an Asian street food expert based in Singapore, said chicken rendang should be made “authentic”, adding it “is just stupid for it to be crispy”.
“Saying chicken rendang should be crispy is like saying that hamburgers should be boiled,” he told Reuters.
Haikal Johari, 41, executive chef of Michelin-star restaurant Alma by Juan Amador in Singapore, said he had never heard of chicken rendang being crispy.
“Chicken rendang is a dish that many of us grew up with. And to have a angmoh (Caucasian) tell us how the dish should be like is a smack on our face,” said Haikal.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak waded into the debate on Tuesday saying no one eats crispy chicken rendang – and veteran leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad for once agreed with his arch-rival.
A hashtag “gastrodiplomacy” was soon trending along with “rendanggate”.
Corporates were not to be left out.
In a cheeky Instagram post of a bucket of their classic fried chicken, KFC said: “The only thing that should be crispy is our fried chicken.”
Regional ehailing service Grab offered promotions, asking users to tweet #RendangIsNeverCrispy.
Torode riled Malaysians by suggesting on Twitter that chicken rendang was from Indonesia, and ending his tweet with “namaste”, an Indian greeting.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with these Malaysians keep saying Rendang theirs, it’s like the Koreans claiming Japanese ramen,” said one post on Twitter. Many other Indonesians were quick to agree.