As I speak to Adam Liaw he’s sitting in front of a matrix of his recipes for his upcoming show on SBS Food, The Cook Up. It must be quite the matrix because the new program is slated for 200 episodes and, with two-thirds already shot since November 2020 in the can, he’s pretty much Neo in his very own trilogy right now.
The Cook Up is a melange: it’s a little bit game show with an Iron chef-like cloche reveal, a little bit Ahn Do’s ‘Brush with Fame’ and a pinch of morning chat show. With Liaw’s Destination Flavour dry-docked as a result of the grounding of international travel, Liaw worked with SBS commissioning editor for food and entertainment, Josh Martin, to develop an alternative. And so The Cook Up was, well, cooked up, with an initial 10 episodes before growing to 20, then 50, and ultimately 200 episodes and almost 400 guests, shooting four episodes each day.
And don’t expect only famed chefs and celebrities (though episode one features Colin Fassnidge and Yumi Stynes), the show is also about everyday Australians from refugees to CWA doyennes sharing their secrets for the home chef.
“It’s not a celebrity show… it’s about falling in love with home cooking again,” Liaw said.
“It’s all about Australian food and the diversity of our food and our people.”
“In the past, the focus on Australian food has been on what is produced in restaurants, but this is about the real Australian food: the food produced at home.”
Each episode opens with an introduction to the guests sitting at the end of the bench in Adam’s kitchen. Liaw then cooks a 10-minute meal aimed at being quick, nutritious and easy, with a big focus on easy. With three kids under the age of seven, Liaw knows how critical it is to produce food that’s easy, practical and accessible.He proudly declares that each of his recipes can be cooked and served in 10 minutes (all recipes can be downloaded from the website).
After the first break, the guests then split up and cook their own dishes. In episode one, Yumi Stynes does a saganaki burger (she’s grossed out by burger mince) and Fassnidge does a one pot roast pork. Fassender’s tips on roasting whole unpeeled vegetables, pork belly preparation and roast potato wizardry (it all comes down to preparation to activate starches and then take them for a dip in his own mother’s potion of vinegar and rosemary before serving) are genius and he’s a natural at making his food achievable for all in a home kitchen.
The food tasting comes after the second break along with a bit more banter before Liaw leads us in a ‘Food For Thought’ mini segment that shows us his famed technique of using a hairdryer (yep) and dark soy to activate chicken skin, Peking duck style. Liaw has quite the quiver of tricks so look out for his microwaving of mushrooms to transform even a basic mushroom pasta (mushrooms, like lobster and prawn shells, contain a fibrous substance called chitin which means they keep their form and shape more easily. With a degree in pharmacology, Liaw knows science). Liaw swears by microwaving sliced mushrooms for a couple of minutes first which in turn reduces cooking time in the pan and turbocharges the flavour and colour. It works.
And that’s the thing with Liaw: everything works, and The Cook Up is no exception.