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Heart of the Matter
Chef-owner Jimmy Lim of JL Studio, Asia’s winner for 2019 Miele One To Watch, shares the beginnings of his relationship with food – right from the family dining table.
He might have honed his skills at internationally-acclaimed restaurants such as Le Moût in Taichung, The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Per Se in New York, as well as Noma and Geranium in Copenhagen, but Jimmy Lim’s induction into the world of food was really through his family.
My grandmother was one hell of a badass cook. I remember watching her work her “magic” when she was preparing the meal for the family. I was so fascinated by her finesse in the kitchen. How she butchers a chicken in minutes and fillets a fish with ease; how she tosses the wok in style… I will always get so excited when I see the food flying in the air when she tossed the wok. I would cheer for her every time she does it, she would laugh at my reaction and say in her high pitch Teochew accent, “Silly kid”. She makes a mean curry chicken (I begged her to always cook it on my birthdays) and I can’t forget the ngoh hiang (Chinese Five-spice Pork Roll) she made every Chinese New Year.
She also taught me that cooking is an act of love. She would remember every uncle and auntie favorite dishes and cook them the way they liked it whenever they are visiting that day. And on festivals like the Duan Wu Jie (Dumpling Festival), she would make dumplings in the different styles that my aunty and uncles like. I didn’t understand it when I was young and asked why she tires herself so. She just replied: “Because they like it”. Now I understand that she is driven by love: her love for everyone, her love for cooking, her love for wanting everyone to be happy through her food. That impacted me a lot.
The joy of our family meals starts from going to the market to buy and choose ingredients. I can remember how excited my grandmother would be: “Your third uncle loves this. Your aunt likes that. This is your dad’s favorite when he was younger.” While she would not eat much herself at the table, she would watch everyone devour her “love” and would constantly spoon more food into everyone’s bowl – which are already full. Thinking back, I realise that the food is just a way to bring people together.
My late father was a solid hardcore worker. He was a very generous, down to earth and humble guy well known to his friends. He really influenced my work ethics a lot in my career when I entered the industry. For as long as I can remember, he was always in the kitchen. Everyday. Even when he was sick. His rationale is that if he can move, then he can cook. For him, it was about being trust worthy to his guests, who are going to turn up at the stall and be disappointed if it was closed. He would only rest when the stall is closed on Sundays. Through him I saw patience, persistence and perseverance.
What would my late father would say if he tried the food at JL Studio? That’s one question I keep asking myself. I can imagine him giving me “that look” of his when looking at my food when I serve him. Then I guess he will bellow out: “Jimmy, don’t play with the food! Respect the food!”
Currently, there are no dishes in my restaurant that pay tribute to my father’s cooking. As I am still not satisfied with what I have researched. If I were to serve a dish to pay tribute to him it will have to be at the same standards as he cooked it, or better. I will keep trying harder, and maybe one day I will be just as good as he was.
Photos: © Mr Shinichiro Fujii