Friday, 2 April 2010

Malaysian Chef Jumps Into the F1 Kitchen

SHINING STAR: Norman with Lotus Racing Team principal Tony Fernandes in Bahrain
LONDON: In the midst of the Lotus Racing team gearing up for a huge homecoming at the Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang International Circuit, one very important member makes sure the team's drivers and crew stay well fed. He is young, self-taught chef, Norman Musa, one of the three official chefs for the 60-strong Lotus Racing entourage this F1 season, which ends in November.

Norman received a phone call last November from top F1 chef, Dave Freeman — who asked if he was interested to work with the Lotus Racing team. His Ning restaurant website came up when Freeman 'googled' for Malaysian chefs in the UK.

But the job didn't begin until a couple of weeks before the start of the F1 season on March 12 in Bahrain.

"It is definitely a challenge moving around to all the racing venues, getting the right ingredients from places I have never been, and working for a racing team instead of my restaurant. It is different but I am looking forward to doing my best," said the co-owner and head chef of Ning Restaurant in Manchester.

Norman, who hails from Butterworth, Penang, said: "I keep losing track of the days and dates. We just get on with work as it does get hectic on race days." Prior to that, Norman was back in Malaysia earlier this year to promote his recently published cookbook 'Malaysian Food', a collection of his favourite dishes and recipes with inspiring stories behind them. The book will be launched at KLCC on April 7.

"I wanted 2010 to be the year to get Malaysian food recognised throughout the UK and the world for its authenticity and diversity. Joining the Lotus Racing catering team wasn't in the plan but it is a fantastic opportunity."

Asked about his experiences so far, he said: "There’s no time to recover from jetlag. I often go straight to the race track with my kitchen team. Bahrain's track was in the middle of the desert. We were the first team to arrive and set up a restaurant. It was all very efficient." After two races, Norman is still getting used to the job. "Melbourne was not as hard as Bahrain. But it was not just the catering team who worked hard, other team members like the mechanics and technicians also put in a lot of effort.

"It was commented on the Lotus Facebook page that the food was excellent. So our hard work has paid off!" On interacting with the racing superstars, he said: "I see Jarno Trulli and Heiki Kovalainen almost every day but I still get tiny tingly nervous feelings when they start talking to me." Then, at last weekend's race in Melbourne, "I bumped into Lewis Hamilton, who took the back alley to go back to his paddock. He is so tiny and petite. All the drivers are small, apart from Mark Webber.

"I also bumped into Michael Schumacher, who stayed late before the qualifying day. He walked past in his white race suit. The experience was surreal, the most talked about figure in the Formula One business passed in front of me!" It seems a far cry for this former quantity surveyor of nine years, who went to the UK to study in 1994. Just last year, Norman was nominated Chef of the Year at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival Awards.

During his F1 travels, business partner Andy Spracklen said: "Norman will continue to be Ning's executive chef and will return to the Ning kitchen between races." Opened in 2006, Ning's concept is influenced by the trendy noodle bars of Asian cities, with the relaxed and sociable ambience of continental European caf├ęs. The menu fuses the best of western quality and presentation with authentic Malaysian home cooking.

"In June, July and August, Norman will be heading three master cookery classes and four introductory cookery classes. It is a busy but exciting time for all of us," said Spracklen.

Article from The Malay Mail Friday April 2nd by Haliza Hashim-Doyle

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