The young chef cooks Chinese dishes for all

As far back as he can remember, Woh Jia Le loves to cook. By the age of 24, he had moved from his hometown of Batu Pahat, Johor, to Kuala Lumpur where he worked as a professional chef at a well-known hotel in the capital.

After the outbreak of Covid-19, however, tourist arrivals plunged to zero and the restaurant where he worked was forced to suspend operations.

Alone at home, Woh started racking his brains to find something to do to pass the time. But no inspiration came until a Malaysian friend asked her how to cook halal Chinese food.

It was as if a switch had been flipped. Immediately, Woh knew what he could do.

He decided to make videos teaching people how to cook traditional Chinese dishes that anyone could eat.

It was a bold move to tout Chinese cuisine without ingredients such as pork and rice wine, but Woh was determined to give it a shot.

He uploaded his first video in January 2021, showing how to do Cantonese kueh teow chariot.

Gradually, he added to his collection and people started noticing him on social media.

Today, his Hainanese chicken rice video alone has been viewed over 2.3 million times.

Recipes aside, Woh has also received praise for his use of the Malay language in his videos.

While initially shaky in his command of the language, he said none of his viewers complained or criticized.

“They actually helped me,” he said. “When I used the wrong word for something, they would tell me what the correct word was.

“I was touched,” he added. “The more videos I made, the more I appreciated the spirit they showed. They always left comments that encouraged me to do more.”

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Speaking in an interview with MalaysiaNow, Woh said there aren’t many restaurants in Malaysia that offer halal Chinese food.

“It was difficult for my Malaysian friends and even some of my Indian friends to enjoy Chinese food,” he said.

“By making these videos and posting them on social media, I hope they can learn how to make dishes on their own.”

Woh also takes the opportunity to introduce Chinese culture and tradition to his social media followers by preparing ancient dishes such as bak chang or steamed sticky rice dumplings.

“The method of wrapping and preparing bak chang is very traditional,” he said.

“Every year, the Chinese celebrate the bak chang festival. This year, I can celebrate it with my Malay and Indian friends.”

Woh was overwhelmed with the support he’s received so far, saying many of his followers even post photos of their cooking accomplishments.

“I didn’t think they would try because it’s hard to do,” he said. “When I see the photos, sometimes I shed a few tears.

“I’m really touched,” he added. “They try very hard to cook these dishes and enjoy the food. I feel like I achieved my goal of sharing my culture.”

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Woh has also come up with a recipe for another classic Chinese dish: bak kut teh or herb pork, only cooked with chicken instead.

His “chi kut teh” video received enthusiastic support on social media, as did his videos for other Chinese staples like mapo tofu, oyster omelet, and sweet and sour chicken.

The first video Woh made was with his friend, Han Sheng, in the kitchen of their rented house in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

They spent an entire day buying the utensils and ingredients they would need. After that they talked about which cooking method to use.

Then they recorded their cooking session using a mobile phone.

Now they have rented a small studio in Kepong for filming. They also have three other crew members in charge of management, video editing and marketing.

Before becoming a social media chef, Woh studied culinary arts at an academy in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur.

He underwent practical training at the Mandarin Oriental before landing a job at the five-star Grand Millennium in Jalan Bukit Bintang.

But despite all his training and the prestige that comes with working in famous hotels and restaurants, he never regretted his decision to make cooking videos instead.

Ultimately, he says, he does it as a child of Malaysia.

“I hope the spirit and unity of Malaysians will only grow and strengthen through food,” he said.

“That’s why I’m doing this.”

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