Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Chef WanRestaurant Insider
February 6, 2022
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: Anne Lee
ANNE LEE speaks with REDZUAWAN BIN ISMAIL, AKA CHEF WAN
Redzuawan Bin Ismail, which translates to the keeper of the door to get into heaven, was born in 1958 in Singapore and is the oldest son of seven children. With Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese ethnicities, this celebrity chef is best known internationally as Chef Wan and has traveled the world sharing his passion for food and cooking. An author of bestselling cookbooks, entertainer, actor, motivator and restaurateur, Chef Wan’s first love is being a food ambassador.
“The best thing about being a chef is that I get to make people happy,” he says. “Food makes people happy. No matter how big your problems are, you still have to eat.
I believe that problems seem bigger on an empty stomach. Moreover, food has a way of cheering us up. I believe that food is one way to make people happy. My dream is that through my position as food ambassador, I can bring peace to the world. I also believe that food can unite people from all walks of life and cultures. When we sit together and eat, we promote better understanding and harmony.”
He grew up on a military air force base, as his father was in the Royal Air Force. There were a lot of different ethnicities and types of cooking surrounding him. At a young age, he would read recipes from different magazines to learn how to make different dishes, from cookies to fish and chips.
“My mother would take cooking classes and I would tag along, which was controversial at that time as people did not believe that men should be in the kitchen,” he says. “Back then, what they didn’t understand was that in France, there are males as young as 12, who go right into an apprenticeship to become a chef, but in Malaysian society it was taboo.”
This didn’t matter to Chef Wan. He still had the interest and passion to cook. Even when he was sent to boarding school, he would have a hot plate and make his own fried rice noodles. His fellow classmates would form a line down the hall to taste what he was making. Throughout his career, he had the opportunity to cook for many famous people. In 2009, he won the “Best Celebrity Television Chef of the Gourmand World Cookbook” award, and in 2013, he went on to win the“Best English-language Television Chef” award at the prestigious Gourmand Awards in Paris, which is like the Oscars for the food industry. He beat international chefs, including Jamie Oliver and Harumi Kurihara, who is often referred to as “The Martha Stewart of Japan.”
Hawaii is a special place for Chef Wan and his ties to the islands are very strong. In the early 1980s, he had a chance meeting with Tom Gentry and his wife Kiana, which brought him to Honolulu to run their restaurant Angelica’s at the previous Gentry Pacific Design Center and also became their personal chef. I asked him to share a recipe that we could make together and share with the readers of Dining Out.
We had a wonderful time finding the ingredients in Chinatown to prepare Chef Wan’s Grandmother’s Kerabu Udang (Prawn Salad), and then to Kiana’s kitchen to make this special dish.
Chef Wan’s Grandmother’s Kerabu Udang (Prawn Salad)
• 1 1/2 pounds fresh prawns, cleaned, shelled, blanched and drained
• 2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
• 1/2 ounces coriander leaves (cilantro), chopped
• 2 tablespoons mint leaves, chopped
• 4 tablespoons fish sauce
• 2 limes, juice extracted
• salt, to taste
• sugar, to taste
• 7 ounces glass noodles, blanched and drained
• 2 ounces crisp-fried shallots
• salad greens, as needed
• 3 ounces roasted peanuts, pounded
Spice Paste Ingredients:
• 3 red chiles, seeded
• 3 bird’s eye chiles (cili padi), seeded
• 1 1/2 ounces dried prawns (shrimp) soaked in water and drained
• 3 garlic cloves, peeled
• grated palm sugar (gula melaka) or 3 tablespoons brown sugar
• 2 tomatoes, quartered
1. Combine ingredients for spice paste in a food processor and blend until fine.
2. Mix all the ingredients except salad greens and peanuts, together with the prepared spice paste
3. Line a serving dish with salad greens, place the salad on top and sprinkle with peanuts and serve immediately