You Don't Mess With Food

I watched My Kitchen Rules for the first time tonight. And it will probably be my last time watching it. This is why:


It’s this simple. Channel 7 is a poor channel and My Kitchen Rules is a sad pathetic lame excuse for a cooking competition show. And I’m pissed about it, for reasons unknown. How pissed? I thought that a 45 minute Magic the Gathering game with 2 very close matches against cfgt would take my mind off it. It did not.

What got me so pissed off? Firstly, if anyone from Channel 7 is reading, it’s spelled “HAINANESE Chicken Rice”. Note the spelling. You spelled it on screen wrong. TWICE * Evidence 1. Evidence 2 . And everyone pronounced the word wrong countless times. Is it so hard? Hai-nan (IPA: ˈhaɪˈnæn)


The etymology of the word ‘Hainanese’ is as such: the root word is Hainan, which is a place in China. Hainanese describes a situation where something is of Hainan. Hainanese people are a sub-ethnicity of the Han Chinese (oh yeah, there are more ethnicities in China than you think). Hainanese food are foods typical of the Hainanese culture.

Now that the primer is done, here’s some more interesting things. Hainanese chicken rice is not exactly Hainanese. You see, the Hainanese people moved south from China into South East Asia. They settled in places like Malaysia and Singapore. And with them they brought their cuisine, which having passed through a different geography, mutated on its own. Ingredients not found in the place of origin were added (like pandan/screwpine leaves).

The original inspiration for Hainanese chicken rice was the wen chang chicken (文昌鸡). And what was it? Chicken blanched in hot water. What’s special about it is the sauce, made of ginger, garlic, spring onion, and soy sauce.

That was the original inspiration for Hainanese chicken rice.  As previously mentioned, the recipe mutated. Chicken was boiled in pork stock instead of just water. The sauces had a dash of sesame oil. As such, it can be said that Hainanese chicken rice is almost exclusively a South East Asian fare, although I’d grant you as far as saying it’s Hainanese.

But this is not what the judges say. Here is a transcript of what they said:

Karen: traditional, clean –

Liz : [bea]utiful

Karen: fresh

Tobie: if it were put in a restaurant in front of you, it ought to make you excited.

(someone, probably Guy* Given the Guy has an Italian heritage ): Buon appetito

Guy: the last time I ate a version of this dish, I was in Beijing. This one’s better.

Karen: Wow

Guy: This is something cool

Tobie: I love the way it’s sincere to the origin, of of  [sic] where this dish comes from;  and you say it’s better than something you ate in Beijing… this is huge.

At this point, I lost it.

Guy Grossi and Tobie Puttock don’t know food. Bad chefs. Bad.

I mean, these are chefs. Food is their domain of knowledge. And they make this error? Beijing being implied and referred to as the origin of the dish? What, are they daft?

Guy Grossi supposedly has a restaurant in Bangkok. That’s right smack in South East Asia. Surely he must have tasted chicken rice? Heck, it’s even served up as a meal if he takes Singapore Airlines! How in the world did he think Beijing is the original source of Hainanese chicken rice?

To make matters worse, Tobie added fuel to the fire. How the frak does he know it’s sincere to the origin if he doesn’t even know that it originated from South East Asia, and not Beijing?

Of course, it’s an easy mistake to make, to mistake China for a small country, where everything originates from one point, and that China has a homogeneous culture. But this is not the case.

The mistake is like thinking Chicago deep dish pizzas originated from Rome. * They did not. Chicago deep dish pizzas were inspired by Italian pizzas, but were never from anywhere in Italy. Like chop-suey, it was an entirely American invention. And then. when tasting a Chicago deep dish pizza in Sydney, compare it with a Chicago deep dish pizza from Rome, and claim that the one in Sydney is better than the one in Rome.

Part of the rage is that these chefs know nothing about food. And I’m not even a foodie. I can tell the difference between Neapolitan cuisine and Lombardian cuisine, despite both being Italian. Heck, I can even tell you the difference between normal mozzarella and mozzarella di buffala  campana.  And my world doesn’t even revolve around food. The mistake would be like me telling you that a normal distribution and a power law distribution are the same thing.

It could be argued that they would only know food that are within their domain of knowledge – i.e. Guy Grossi and Tobie Puttock know Italian food. It is therefore excusable they not be knowledgeable in other food cultures.  Which begs the question: what the hell makes them qualified to be judges in a food competition that spans many food cultures?  Taste? If that be the case, I submit that a better judge would be the man on the street. An aggregated review of the foods would then give a more accurate judging * Though I do think this will not be the case as this show is purely for entertainment value. Still, one should not tolerate misinformation. .

There is no excuse, as chefs and food critics, that they have NO knowledge whatsoever about food in this very globalized world; what more both Tobie and Guy are based in Melbourne, arguably the place with the most diverse food cultures in Australia.

Lastly, I’d like to drop a friendly advice from the undercover economist Tyler Cowen: when eating ethnic food, don’t drop names of capital cities, drop names of more obscure places.

Update at 8 am:

Channel 7 editors have never used Google* seriously, Google ‘Hainese Chicken’ and Google will autocorrect it as ‘Hainanese chicken’ for you . The recipes went up on their website. It was the perfect opportunity for them to correct their mistakes. Instead, they made it doubly wrong. While it was easy to typo ‘Hainanese’ into ‘Haianese’, it is UNACCEPTABLE to spell it as ‘Hainese’.  Here are screenshots:

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