Five Minutes With Ping Coombes

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We spoke with Masterchef 2014 winner and Consultant Chef of Chi Kitchen, Ping Coombes, to learn more about the inspiration behind her dishes, favourite foods and tips for aspiring Masterchef contestants.

What inspired you to become a chef?
I guess I am a bit of an accidental chef. I have always loved food and cooking but it wasn’t until I was made redundant three years ago that I entered MasterChef and won, which sent me down the path of becoming a chef professionally. I realised I was meant to become one!

What gives you inspiration for your dishes?
The inspirations come from my mum, my childhood in Malaysia, as well as the places I visited abroad and living in England.

How did it feel to win Masterchef?
It was unbelievable and I felt on top of the world. When my name was announced, it felt like time had frozen. I will cherish that moment forever.

Do you have any tips for aspiring contestants?
Believe in what you are cooking and cook from the heart. Plan, practice and persevere.

What is your favourite food?
It has to my mum’s cooking.

Do you have any culinary role models?
Other than my mum, it has to be John Campbell.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at Chi Kitchen?
Nasi Lemak – coconut rice with spicy sambal, fragrant chicken curry, crispy anchovies, eggs and peanuts. Every mouthful is an explosion of flavours – it’s such a joy to eat.

Tell us more about your culinary background
I am a self-taught cook. I only learnt how to boil an egg when I went to university at 21. I started to put simple meals together. The first cookbook I owned was Gary Rhodes’ and I remember the huge achievement when I successfully made his chicken liver pate. After a few years, I started to crave food from home so I started to research different recipes, spoke to my mum on Skype a lot and experimented until I got it right. The first time I made Nasi Lemak, it was so spicy it blew my head off! I fell in love with cooking and it was just by chance really that I get to cook for a living, which I am thankful everyday.

What food takes you back to childhood?
Ipoh Chicken Hor Fun – soft flat rice noodles in a chicken and prawn broth. It’s my hometown speciality. My mum used to take me to the one I like. I would have a bowl there and then take away another. I still have vision of my mum spoon feeding me the noodles.

If you weren’t a chef, which career would you like to pursue?
I’d like to be a Marine Biologist. I told my dad I wanted to become one when I was young.

Plus, to try one of Ping’s delicious dishes for yourself, click here.

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