The famous celebrity Chef Ismail reveals his definition of eating healthy
BY SYED ZAID
WHEN we talk about healthy eating, we often think about the physical aspect of eating. The amount of calories, foods restrictions, the right time and the do’s and don’ts. However, according to celebrity chef Ismail, there’s more to it than we realise. That is the love we have whether we’re consuming or preparing food. The true health benefit comes from something immeasurable, something we find pleasure in eating.
“Life is beautiful,” says the celebrity chef. “You must have a good strong foundation and good strong wing for you to fly,” he continues. “Sometimes you are gifted in what you do but most of the time, you learn from others and you work hard to get to where you want to be.” He learned about healthy eating back when he a ‘kampung boy’ – with memories of playing in the river and riding the bus to school.
Cooked with love
The chef believes in eating healthy but his conviction is far more different that the conventional definition. According to chef Ismail, everything goes back to when he was growing up. His begins to tell the story of when he was six years old.
“I grew up living with my grandmother. I remember the colours of the food vividly. I can still see them when I close my eyes; pumpkins, jackfruit, yam, papaya and all sorts of leaves – pumpkin shoots, sweet potato shoots all were grown by my great aunt. My grandmother gave me a strong foundation,” he says wiping his drool.
“You see, my grandmother didn’t know everything from A to Z. She didn’t even know her ABCs – she was illiterate you see,” says the chef. “But she knows what’s good for my upbringing. She made me eat the banana flowers – that’s potassium. She didn’t have the knowledge, she did it out of love. As a result, I don’t remember ever having high fever or a bad flu,” he continues.
The globally renowned cook says that with the lack of meat in his staple diet, he gets protein from consuming the eggs collected from his grandfather’s chicken coop. “Every morning, my grandmother would serve me a couple of eggs, three-quarter boiled with some bread accompanied by malt-based drinks. I remember she nagged me to finish my food so I can grow up strong and healthy,” he says with a cheeky smile.
Up to this day, the chef claims that he remembers the smell of his morning breakfast back in his village house in Negeri Sembilan. He says that love was the most important ingredient that his late grandmother puts in a lot of love in her cooking. “Time is love,” he says. “She spent so much of her love in cooking the food. So much love in choosing the ingredients, so much love in making the food clean and tasty; and so much love in ensuring I was well-fed. She did everything with love.”
Big shoes to fill
A few years later, the established chef takes on the role of being a father to his adopted son, Halim. Taking his grandmother’s care for him as the prime example, he sees himself in the same light. “I would always tell my son to cut his nails, to have a balanced diet and so forth. He is now 25-years-old and I believe he’s a good man that’s why I am always reminding him to be better; to realise his full potential,” he says.
“I rarely serve stall-bought food on my dining table; but when I do, I would serve it to him in a plate to make it a habit,” he explains. “I couldn’t bear seeing my son eating from the container. When you eat from the styrofoam, the heat emitted by the food melts the wax, making the food poisonous. So, you’re essentially eating chemicals. It’s worst when the vendor has bad hygienic practice,” he says in a stern manner.
The chef explains that a bowl of rice signifies love. “I believe that you receive everything from a bowl of rice. There’s vitamins and minerals, a good lifestyle, and more importantly; love. That, my dear, is one of many ways to convey your feelings, to show that you care for their wellbeing. I’m sure each one of you remember being served a plate or a bowl of rice by someone who loves you.”
The award-winning chef believes that health and happiness should come together. “We are humans my dear, it’s okay to be tempted by the things we love sometimes. I do enjoy the occasional banana fritters every now and then but I keep it in moderation.” He questions the purpose of being healthy if the person is unhappy.
The nature of food business
The chef believes that a healthier nation can be built if the cook sells healthy food to their customers. “Some food vendors only care about making money. I’m not like that. I care about the customers of my restaurant. Humans can afford to pay for their health. That’s why I would never use styrofoam for my restaurant’s take-away container. These foams are carcinogenic and there should be no excuses as to why vendors should even consider using these containers for take-away foods,” he explains in a fiery passion.
Love for his son
“I always worry about where my son gets his nutrients from. After all, we are what we eat. That’s why I always prepare my son’s meal in a lunchbox. It puts my mind at ease knowing the person I love is safe from the harmful practices of money-hungry vendors out there,” he claims. “I’m not saying that every vendor is like that but in the modern age where money comes first, I can’t help but to worry,” he adds.
Talking to Chef Ismail teaches us that food is not just the spiritual aspect of what we eat can affect our overall wellbeing. He claims, “Healthy cooking doesn’t require grade-A ingredients. All home-cooked foods are healthy to me. Spending time preparing a meal is good for both sides; the consumers and the cook. For me, it’s therapeutic. It helps me relax knowing that my son is consuming safe, hygienic food. That, I believe is why home-cooked meals will always be better than the so-called superfood and the likes of it.”
Staying healthy by being happy
“I’m at the ‘young’ age of 59 now,” he says jokingly. “And I need a place where I can call my own. I always go back to my kampung where I have some ducks and geese waiting for me. It becomes my sanctuary – a destination I can look forward to. That is the secret of my healthy life,” he explains.
Smiling, he asks, “Do you know that your parents will never stop worrying about you? They can be a little stubborn but they will always worry about you. They care about what you eat, and if you’re eating enough. Because like I said – you are what you eat. The first thing they would ask you when you visit them will always be ‘have you eaten?’ and being a parent, I understand the sentiment now.”— The Health
Healthy cooking doesn’t require grade-A ingredients. All home cooked foods are healthy to me. Spending time preparing a meal is good for both sides; the consumers and the cook. For me, it’s therapeutic. It helps me relax knowing that my son is consuming safe, hygienic food.”
– Chef Ismail