Pearly Kee loves sharing her culture and cuisine with travellers to Asia. In fact, her cooking classes are so popular now, she can’t leave the house without being recognised!
What’s your story?
I love Asian cuisine. 8 years ago, I decided to teach people how to cook Asian cuisine, given I love eating it so much! It surprised and humbled me to find that lots of travellers really travel to get to know the countries they visit. Cooking with locals is a highlight of their journey in life. I love getting to know and making friends with travellers and holidaymakers who visit Penang and Malaysia and return year after year to do cooking classes with me.
What excites you most about your industry?
My beloved Penang stands proud as a melting pot for a variety of cuisine, consisting of various types of Chinese cuisine such as Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka etc. Also to be counted are Indian Muslim food, Malay food, Indian food with a wide platter of Northern Indian, Southern Indian and Eurasian food.
What do you think happened 150 years ago when these countries started their friendship of sharing each other’s culture and food? Without a doubt, a new breed of fusion food was born. For me as a cooking teacher, I do not need to do any further fusion as these 150 years of blending the flavours works well even today.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I am proud to be Asian. I think Asian food is the best in the world. I love Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Japanese cuisine. Our cooking is fast and fiery, hot and spicy like how our Asian countries dance with each other. As Malaysian food is getting more modern and simplified, I am very intrigued and fascinated with Asian cuisine. It sends a clear message to me to slow down and not let our food change.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Australia. Most of my guests come from there and I have been invited to visit them and learn about their culture too. I have also learnt so much about the uses of herbs and spices from Australia as well. For me, young Australians are hard-working and they are now all over Asia setting up well known restaurants.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best piece of advice I ever received is, to keep teaching and telling stories. Now I have become quite an expert!
As I teach, I realise my guests want to know more about our way of life, cultures and traditions. They are fascinated as I narrate stories of my childhood and lifestyle. I always hear my clients remarking that they have such fun here. They are so open minded to our traditions and customs so I always feel comfortable taking them for traditional weddings or community events. You should see how happy they are participating in community eating and exchanging stories with others. Some have even booked vacation homes here to come back during winter months to be in our crowd of festivities.
Who inspires you?
There are a few local figures I look up to. Their work encourages me to focus on my direction. It also reminds me, why we’ve got to pause sometimes in our life. Life is to be enjoyed.
One of the people I am inspired by is my aunt who is 88 years old this year. I talk a lot, she doesn’t, but she listens. I‘ve learned from her to be a good listener and try my best to be calm when faced with opinionated people. My aunt is the one that calms me in situations which are less than desirable.
Also, my mentor, Dato Lim Bian Yam who travelled the world to promote and cook Penang food. I want to be like him. In his younger years, Dato Lim was unstoppable. I’ve got 2 of the best mentors in the world.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That I am well-known. I never once thought that one day, I would be so recognised. I try to walk in town without make up and I still get stopped and people will say, “Pearly can I have a picture with you.” So now, I go out nicely and decently dressed so as not to embarrass myself.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Open a big cooking school where all kinds of Malaysian food can be showcased by more passionate people like me. I know so many home makers who are fantastic cooks. I would love them to show off our cuisine and be proud and happy like me.
How do you unwind?
I read novels by my favourite authors. Every night, I read for at least an hour or so to put me to sleep, happy. I watch lots of cooking shows of great chefs and feel so relaxed knowing we are doing the right thing.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Traveling in Asia, learning more about Asian food and eating lots. Japan, India and Vietnam are on my bucket list. When I get to travel, I am in a relaxed mode yet out for a good time wanting to find delicious and authentic food. I sometimes go to the kitchens of some village homes to learn their food. It is a very humbling experience.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Everyone should have Khoo Salma’s, “Streets of Penang” to know more about the lovely Penang island.
Shameless plug for your business:
One of the most successful and knowledgeable Penang Nyonya cooks of today.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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