Local chef reinvents Sarawak dishes in TVS food and travel show, Homegrown

ByNurul Amarlina

The latest TVS cooking adventure show, Homegrown (from the team who produced travelogue ‘Take Me to Sarawak’, nominated for Best TV Magazine Programmes for Anugerah Seri Angkasa 2022) features local chef Achang Libat who brings audience to explore homegrown ingredients from the farm to the table.

Interlaced between his outdoor adventure of talking to farmers to harvesting jungle produce, Achang ends each episode by cooking up a storm in his mobile kitchen, serving his guests with traditional homegrown flavours with a modern twist (midin tempura, anyone?)

TVS sat down with Achang to talk about his gastronomical adventure in Homegrown.

1. Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m Achang, I’m a chef from Kuching. I trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia and also Taylor’s College in Kuala Lumpur. My dad is Lun Bawang and my mom is Kayan. So I am fully an Orang Ulu. I grew up in Kuching, so I’m a city boy.

Achang’s rendition of virgin Bloody Mary and fish with geronong chilli ash sauce in Episode 1. Photo: Homegrown (TVS)

2. When did you decide to become a chef?
I got my first F&B gig when I was 17 after SPM at a Kuching-based fast food restaurant. From there I worked at random places until I took a diploma in culinary arts at Taylor’s College. Then I continued working in Kuching before I flew to Australia to train at Le Cordon Bleu.

Why I became a chef… I decided to take on this path because I found something that I’m good at doing. Food isn’t just something to replenish ourselves. Food can bring happiness, so I see cooking as a medium where I can share that happiness with people.

3. Can you explain more what you do? Do you own a restaurant?
I’m an independent chef. I have a nomad kitchen where me and my team do pop-ups, events, dinners and consultation. Last year, we went to Thailand for Gastronomy Week representing Kuching Creative City Of Gastronomy. In 2020, before the pandemic we went to Frankfurt representing Sarawak for an expo.

I don’t operate a restaurant because I feel it’s a bit hard to experiment, share my passion, and reach more people if being tied down to a place.

4. You mentioned that you grew up with mixed parentage of Lun Bawang and Kayan. How did it influence your cooking?
My childhood definitely helped me shaped my tastes and styles. I hate the word fusion but my cooking is about where two cultures meet, stuff like that, an integration of cultures and produce.

Episode 4 features the seasonal and poisonous kepayang, a type of fruit that contains cyanide if not processed correctly. Achang turns the fruits into a hearty appetiser, cream of kepayang soup and for dessert, kepayang pudding. Photo: Homegrown (TVS)

5. In your own words, what is Homegrown all about?
Homegrown is about exploring and sharing that exploration to people. As a Sarawakian, I think we have to love our own thing first before sharing it to the outside world.

Sometimes I feel we get too comfortable, not try make things better but we must keep on expanding and innovating. For example, in one episode I made midin tempura. I feel we can do more things with our jungle products like midin. I mean in terms of business, we can expand businesses, explore new markets, create healthy competition and finally expand as a community.

6. How did you become the host of Homegrown?
Prisca (the producer) approached me to host the show. Because I feel like I can do something different with what I’m passionate about. All the recipes in the episodes are from me and my team.

In Episode 5, Achang adds the finishing touch on his terung assam cobbler with cream and local limes. Photo: Homegrown (TVS)

7. What cooking shows did you refer to when hosting the show?
It’s my first time doing this, so I had to do some studies how to host a show. Some references include the late Anthony Bourdain, Jalan-Jalan Cari Makan, but the main reference was Luke Nguyen.

8. What’s your favourite episode in this series?
Oh my favourite one would be the shoot with Zalina (Episode 3). I had fun with her. I know her as a friend and supplier. She’s very spontaneous and straight forward. If the dish is not tasty, she will tell it straight to my face.

9. What was the most unforgettable moment during shooting?
We all got sunburned, like, really bad. My forehead had two colours because I wore my bandana throughout the shoot. My sous chef’s foot looked like a zebra because her slipper had holes (laughs).

10. Anything that you wished you had done differently?
If I had another opportunity to repeat this, I would make it more people-centric, more like Anthony Bourdain’s treatment that features the peoples’ story, origins and delicacies.

11. Does this mean there will be Homegrown Season 2?
I would love to do Season 2. I would like to feature more meat, because Season 1 was more to featuring fruits and vegetables.

Watch full episodes of Homegrown on TVS Entertainment Youtube channel.

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