By ALIA ALI
“You’ve got the job,” says Boss #1, reaching out to shake my hand.
My inner glee is momentarily interrupted by Boss #2 leaning over and whispering conspiratorially, “You should feel lucky. He doesn’t hire just anyone. This means you’ve got it. Not everyone gets it.”
(In order to explain what “it” is, let us rewind to the beginning of the year.)
It was a dark and stormy night – well, not really, but Kampung Baru did look more daunting in the light rain. My mother and I were huddling under an umbrella outside the mosque, waiting for a man in an orange cap to show up. Soon enough, we see a dark figure shuffling up and stepping into the light of the street lamp with a wide grin.
“Hi, I’m [Boss #1] from FriedChillies! You’re here for the Kampung Baru food crawl?”
I nodded fervently. FriedChillies is a food media company based in Petaling Jaya, and they eat, cook, write, and photograph anything to do with food. I knew I would get along with them from the start. Soon enough, a motley crew of people arrived, all hungry for a night of feasting. We were all raring to go, and bounced around from place to place, tasting tempoyak and rendang itik in one, relishing nasi kerabu and nasi dagang in another.
Most would have admitted defeat after the first stop, but I still had a spring in my step after the last restaurant. My dinner companions looked at me in amazement. “I should probably intern for you guys at some point,” I commented, laughing at their reactions. Boss #2 looked at me thoughtfully. “Contact us during your holidays then. We need more foodies like you.”
(Fast forward to the present.)
“You’re a foodie,“ Boss #2 continues, “We get all sorts applying to work here, and to be honest, everyone loves food. But like I said, not everyone gets it. Gets us.” Grinning, I looked around the lounge. We were sitting on a comfortable couch, facing a widescreen television with DVD box sets of cooking shows and food-themed movies stacked up next to it. Shelves filled with food-related books and magazines lined the walls.
“You’ll be writing, mostly. Restaurant and cookbook reviews, recipe testing, and research,” I hear Boss #2 say. Then I walked into the main office. “As you can see, half of our kitchen is an office,” Boss #1 says, only partly in jest.
My jaw dropped, my eyes widened, and my heart beat a little quicker. Half of the office is a kitchen. I try not to squeal in excitement. The rest of the meeting passed in a blur of salary negotiations and working hours, and I walked out feeling like I just landed the best job in the universe – which I did. What the heck, I thought. I squealed.
To be a foodie, you have to love both eating and exploring food as a subject – where it comes from, how it grows, how ingredients react with heat and each other. You explore different tastes and push the boundaries of your own culinary limits, whether cooking or dining. You talk about food when you are eating. You even watch cooking shows while you eat!
I am all of that, and more. Growing up, my mother would make me sit in the kitchen with her. As I was too young to handle real knives, I would use a butter knife to peel garlic. Occasionally, I could sit on the counter and stir the pot on the stove, which is a real treat when you are less than four feet tall.
I understand the powerful comfort that food provides at the end of a harsh day, like humble nasi goreng made only the way a mother can. I have made people hungry with stories of made-from-scratch lasagna at 2 a.m. Staring at the cheese section of the gourmet grocers has moved me to tears. Why, then, did it take me so long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life? Being a cook did cross my mind, but my bad knees halted that dream pretty quickly. I think I wanted to prove something to everyone around me, that I was capable of a more ‘professional’ career.
Three colleges and two major life plan shifts led me to study journalism in the university I am currently in, and even now I do not know if this is right – what I do know is that I loved food through it all, and I no longer try to prove anything to anyone but myself. So above all, pinpoint your passion and pursue it. What they say is true: if you love your job, you do not have to work a day in your life. From stumbling through the streets of Kampung Baru, to writing this while researching mooncakes, I have savoured every step of this fantastic journey, and I cannot wait to find out what we are cooking when I go in to work later.
Alia Ali believes that a love of learning is the most important and powerful passion that everyone should cultivate. She spends her time cuddling cats, practising Spanish, and playing in several KL-based bands. She knows she can do anything, for according to her hero Martin Yan, “If Yan can cook, so can you!” Click here for more articles.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.