Food glorious food! No matter who you are you got to love it. The sight, the smell and the taste! I’m making myself hungry just talking about it! The editor of cooking website/blog Rasa Malaysia (meaning “Taste Malaysia”), Bee Yinn Low, a Penang native who now resides in California, recently announced a cookery book to be released. Getting a publishing deal for a cookery book is impressive alone, but to get one on the strengths of a cooking blog is even more impressive. Having a look through the site itself, its not hard to understand why – her website is full of wonderful dishes as well as great food photography which visually bring out the taste in the dishes!
Since we love our photography and more importantly our food, she sat down with us to cook up an interview about all things food with a dash of photography and a hint of fashion…
HQ: What made you decide to start a cooking blog?
B: I started Rasa Malaysia in July 2006 to document my family’s recipes and also share my many eating trips overseas. It eventually turned into a cooking blog because my readers left me a lot more comments whenever I cooked and shared recipes.
HQ: Did you think the site would become as big as it has?
B: No, I never thought it could become the largest Asian recipe blog on the internet. Currently, Rasa Malaysia receives 1.2 million page views per month and it just keeps growing, thanks a lot to word-of-mouth by fans and readers, Google juice, and great content.
HQ: That is a LOT of visitors! I’m sure the snazzy design of the website also plays a part, who came up with the design of it and was the cool logo something you came up with?
B: I was an online marketing/web marketing/social media professional in my past life and I have a great understanding of web design and creative direction of a snazzy website. Thanks to my developer and logo designer because they were able to translate my vision into reality on Rasa Malaysia.
HQ: The fist thing I noticed about your website was the rather delicious photographs of the dishes – if I could print these onto rice paper, I would do so and happily eat away! Who is responsible for these great photos?
B: I shoot all the photos on Rasa Malaysia. I am currently working on my first cookbook on Chinese recipes and am responsible for food styling and food photography of the cookbook which will be released in Fall 2011. I have two cameras, a Canon 500D and Canon 5D Mark II. The former is an entry level DSLR, which is what I use for the site. The 5D Mark II is reserved for my cookbook, because I intend to impress and wow my readers with a more professional touch on the cookbook. I take all food photography in my small dining room, beside the windows so the light is coming from the right hand side of the food. I don’t have a fancy studio or whatever, and I just recently purchased a tripod for my cookbook. Great natural lighting is the most important ingredient in food photography. I got some artificial lighting, tried it once but it looks, well… artificial. They are sitting in my closet and collecting dust now!
HQ: Any tips for the budding young chef who wants to present the food on a plate in an appealing manner much like we see in your photographs?
B: Well, simplicity and being minimal are the two key elements in my food photography. Focus on the food, find an appealing angle, and capture the shot. I don’t rely on too much props, you need only some clean looking serving ware, a clean background and the food. I try to avoid serving ware with too much crazy patterns that compete with the food.
HQ: As a wannabe cook myself, I find it helpful if photos are taken during some of the steps. Do you think you would also try to include this at some point in the future?
B: I try to sometimes but it’s very hard because I am one person, secondly I have a dark kitchen so great food photography is challenging, and thirdly, the dishes I cook are mostly stir-fry dishes or dishes that are cooked in a jiffy so it means it’s hard to capture every step of the cooking process because I might just burn or spoil the dish!!
HQ: One type of cuisine which I was totally unaware of until your site introduced me to was Nyonya. I find it interesting that you have created a whole sub-site for this, why was this?
B: I came from a Nyonya background and there has been an increased interest in preserving the culture and recipes. I wanted to do my part. It’s a really fascinating sub-culture and the food is simply to-die-for. I would say that Nyonya food is one of the most under-rated cuisines in the world, and the world doesn’t even know it exists.
HQ: I think the Nyonya dishes are totally delicious and have single-handedly made me want to go Penang this year just so I can experience all these authentic recipes! The Malaysian and Penang tourist board should really thank you!
B: Thank you. One of my dreams is to become a travel and culinary ambassador for Malaysia, officially appointed by Penang Tourism or better still, Malaysian Tourism Board. Many people visit Malaysia or my hometown Penang because of what I do on Rasa Malaysia and I have many emails from readers to prove it.
HQ: Any plans of opening a Nyonya cuisine restaurant in the near future?
B: I don’t think I am interested in opening a restaurant. I think it’s a lot of hard work running a restaurant. But I might be interested in doing ad-hoc Nyonya food private dining, I think that will be fun, when I am in the mood and it doesn’t have to feel like work.
HQ: What is your funniest kitchen incident?
B: It happens all the time. My smoke alarm goes off every two days because I am trying to cook like a chef at home—lots of wok heat (wok hei).
HQ: Any historic disasters which you have kept secret until now?
B: I can’t bake. I fail all the time when it comes to baking because I have no patience to follow the tedious step-by-step in some baking projects so I usually cheat by combining a few steps into one, and you guess it, I fail most of the time. I should just give up baking, really.
HQ: You mentioned your upcoming cook book, how did that come about? Could you tell us a little about the book and what we shall expect?
B: The cookbook is about Chinese recipes, which is my strongest point (other than Malaysian cuisine). I am very lucky; the publisher emailed me and asked me if I would be interested to do a cookbook based on the strengths of my website, so there was no painful process of writing a proposal, finding a book agent, etc. It was pretty easy but the tough part is working on the cookbook. The cookbook will be out in Fall 2011. I am a Virgo and I try hard every day to make it as perfect as it can be. Readers can expect the most popular Chinese recipes, with well-composed and delicious food photography, and my secret tips and tricks in Chinese cooking.
HQ: Having visited our city of London, what restaurants or food markets really stuck out for you and wished you could head to for lunch right now?
B: I didn’t get a chance to visit any markets but I love Belgo in London – a Belgian restaurant. The mussel pot and the different beers are to-die-for.
HQ: Finally, to garnish this interview with a bit of fashion, if you were to describe your fashion style as a dish, which would best describe it?
B: Well, my fashion style reflects my tropical personality, so if I were to choose, I would say it’s fried eggs, sunny side up because I am really simple and well… summery! My fashion style is casual, carefree, simple, along with a bright smile on my face! I absolutely hate cold weather and still haven’t figured out why I still live in the US and not in tropical Malaysia… even though I am in sunny Southern California, it still gets cold.
HQ: So what does the future hold for you, apart from triggering smoke alarms at home every 2 days and giving us more great recipes and delicious photographs?
B: This year, my goal is to finish my cookbook and keep doing what I do on Rasa Malaysia. Next year, I would like to travel more and explore the local cuisines in Asia and also have a new blog/sub-domain dedicated to Penang food, and perhaps also travelling and spa. I love all the good things in life. I would like to turn Rasa Malaysia into a hub for Asian lifestyle, leisure, travel, and food.
HQ: WeAre looking forward to the book when it comes out! Thank you Bee Yinn Low, it’s been a pleasure.
B: Thank you, I hope the book will sell because I would love to work on a second cookbook about Malaysian and Nyonya cuisine. But I have to prove myself on the first.
If you fancy taking a look at the rest of the recipes, please visit the website – http://rasamalaysia.com
Interview by: Manish
Photographs: Bee Yinn Low / Rasa Malaysia
All photographs are copyright protected – used with permission.