Taste off with Chef Aaron Craze

Updated: 1 Feb 2013

You might have recognized Chef Aaron Craze from his mean gastronomy experiment in 'Rude Boy Foods' or his early start in Jamie Oliver's culinary competition, 'Fifteen'. Currently hosting his latest culinary episode,'Taste Off', he journeys from Asia to South America to familiarize with various street foods. This self-taught British chef and restauranteur opens up to Cheng Sim about his new series as well as Penang's status as a street food capital.

You’ve done several jobs before becoming a chef. When did you realise that being a chef is your true calling?
I realised this is for me when Jamie Oliver tasted my bread for the first time during his series ‘Fifteen’. What happened was, Jamie asked us all to make some bread. I’m used to making bread with my father when I was a child. So, he asked ‘Can you guys make some bread?’ and everybody tried but no one knew how to do it properly. When Jamie tasted mine, he went ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ and it made me feel that I’ve done something good. From that day forward, I knew I wanted to be a chef.

From a graduate of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Fifteen’ to hosting your own show, what is this new experience like for you?
It’s really new to me, you know. I’m really humbled by this. I wake up and have people from around the world talking to me. It’s pretty strange but I love meeting new people. I think it’s fantastic.

Your new series, ‘Taste Off’ seems to be more grounded in reinventing national dishes. Are you more comfortable being a culinary inventor than a chef?
When I was young, we never really have much money at the end of the week. We would always see what’s in the cupboard. Things would work and at times, it wouldn’t. But I start to learn flavours and develop my palate since young. I’m also a musician and I write songs. I’m creative but deep down, I’m a chef.

Prior to the show, what do you imagine Penang food to be like?
Well, I just imagined it to be great. Spicy, fresh and very different to what I was used to in London. When you eat London food, it’s attached to the western palate but when you go to the country, it’s completely different. They were barbecuing stuff on the street. There was Chinese, Indian, Thai all mixed together and for me, I’ve never seen that before. It just opened my eyes to how people can travel to different parts of the world, bring their food together and make one really crazy food. Brilliant!

Curry Kapitan

In the Penang episode, you get to cook Curry Kapitan and that is not an easy feat. What is your strategy in tackling intricate dishes such as this?
I just think about the flavours. When I was travelling around, the main thing wasn’t working to my palate. I had to think about the people’s palate and what sort of flavours they are used to. At the end of the day, to try to win the competition, I have to think about what the people of Malaysia would like. It’s difficult. I have to really take on board the local people’s taste buds.

How would you describe Penang’s hawker food to your peers back home?
Oh my goodness. I would say, you’d never experience the flavour unless you actually go there. You won’t believe how good the food is. Amazing! The weather condition, the vegetables as well. Everything out there, the local produce and flavours is so much different (than at home).

I have to ask, is there a chance for Penang food to make it in London?
Oh, absolutely. British people, we absolutely love spices and fresh flavours. Our traditional British dish is curry [laughs]

What is the most unforgettable ‘Taste Off’ challenge you had to do?
Let me try to think around the world in my head. I think it was maybe in Mexico City, cooking quesadilla on a boat and just sailing down the stream. There were hundreds of different boats, mariachi playing and dogs barking at the side of the bay. It was crazy. It was like New York City on water [laughs]. It was absolutely bonkers.

Cooking aside, what is the one item that you can’t travel without?
Well, a picture of my daughters and a DVD of ‘Only Fools and Horses’. It’s a British comedy filmed in London. It reminds me of my childhood and my life there. What else, probably peanut butter [laughs]

Starting from Dec 18, catch Chef Aaron Craze in his latest series 'Taste Off' premiering on TLC (Ch 707) every Tuesday, 9pm. Penang will be featured on Episode 7, premiering Jan 29, 9pm

Tags: Features