It takes a lot of passion, confidence and conviction to venture into a completely new career path and to find immense success in it. In 2010, corporate lawyer Adam Liaw chose the less travelled road when he entered and won the 2010 MasterChef Australia. He then quit his job, and within five years, three best-selling cookbooks, a popular TV show and numerous newspaper article contributions, Malaysia-born Adam is still as passionate as ever to help improve people’s lives with home-cooked meals. Recently, he shares with Top 10 of Asia his recipe for success in cooking and in life.
Adam Liaw, who moved to Australia at a young age, was already making waves in the kitchen long before winning the second season of MasterChef Australia. Once a month, Adam and his seven siblings will take turns to prepare the family meals to give their mother a well-deserved break. “I was eight when I prepared my first family dinner,” he recalls. “It’s great when you make something and everyone around you is so appreciative and enjoys it. It makes you want to learn more about it.”
Adam became a qualified lawyer at 21 and worked for six years in Tokyo as an in-house lawyer for The Walt Disney Company. But his passion for cooking never faded. He returned to Australia in 2009 to take part in MasterChef and over 5 million viewers watched him won the title in July 2010.
“Cooking is a much harder job than being a lawyer. There is more pressure, speed, and more effort involved in improving myself. As a lawyer, you get to a point where you are comfortable with everything. I do read articles and go to conferences once a month to keep up-to-date with my skills. But with cooking, I have to learn and do research everyday on new techniques to be a better cook. I’m loving it!”
He owes his vast culinary influences to his heritage – his mother is English-Singaporean and his father is Hainanese Chinese – and his travels in the many countries he has worked in during his time with Disney. Still, Adam believes in keeping it simple so that anyone can pick up the skill. “I believe cooking is fundamentally important. There’s no other skill that you can develop than has a greater positive impact on your life every day.”
According to Adam, when he creates new recipes, he is not merely focused in wanting to make something tasty or creative. “I try to solve problems in food, whether it might be providing a balanced diet for a family, or a simple solution for a weeknight dinner (for busy people), or trying to teach someone about the basics of Asian cooking like I do in my new book,” he says. “There are more recipes flying around on the Internet these days than there ever have been, but we still don’t cook particularly well at home. I’d really love to change that.”
Known for his trademark warm smile and topknot, Adam calls himself a cook, not a chef, as he believes there is a big difference between the two – one cooks in a restaurant and the other, at home. “Chefs do fantastic and inspiring things in restaurants, but the average person eats more than 90% of their meals at home. I love food and I love cooking, and I think it’s more important for us to focus on the way people eat at home rather than how we eat in restaurants. Home cooking is about culture, health, time, family and quality of life. If I can help people cook better at home and improve their lives, I think that’s a more positive thing than just giving them a great evening out at a restaurant.”
Since winning Master Chef Australia, Adam’s life has drastically changed. “There is a huge variety in what I do now. One month I might be filming a TV series in Sweden, the next in a photoshoot for a new book in Sydney, then the month after that doing an advertising campaign in Singapore, or at my desk writing articles, or in my test kitchen working on new recipes. It sounds exciting and fun (and it is), but my biggest challenge is to give every individual thing I do a 100% focus.”
Adam is also travelling more these days but makes it a point to incorporate quality time with his family as much as he can. “I make sure the time I do get to spend with my family is active and genuine. Rather than just staring at the TV together, I’ll teach my son how to cook, or head down to the park for a family picnic.”
To Adam, having a family has been more rewarding than anything else that he had done. “My personal successes – my successful law career, winning MasterChef Australia, publishing my books and making TV shows – they’ve all been fantastic experiences, but it wasn’t until I started a family that I felt that success was something that could be shared. It’s really changed my perspective on why I want to do well,” he says with a smile.