For someone who’s been labeled a “Rude Boy,” chef Aaron Craze is very polite. He smiles a lot, says thank you and even does a children’s show in London where he’s based.
During a recent press conference at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel, he demonstrated how to prepare Poached Barramundi with Yellow Darwin Sauce and Bok Choy with such aplomb and expertise that it was hard to believe he started his culinary career without any previous kitchen experience.
Slicing the herbs, chopping the onions and seasoning the sauce, he was the ultimate pro, focused on the tasks at hand, yet relaxed enough to still be able to chat with the guests.
The dish, which he learned from a fellow chef in Australia, incorporates some of his favorite ingredients: kaffir lime leaves, curry, spices and especially fish. Which is ironic because while growing up, he said, they never ate fish at home.
“We only had goldfish,” he recalls.
If they’d ever had a fish dish, it would be fish fingers with ketchup, served as a sandwich.
Craze has gone a long way since then, starting from 12 years ago, when he joined Jamie Oliver’s reality show “Jamie’s Chef.” The show is filmed in Oliver’s East London restaurant, which he set up under his foundation “Fifteen,” a program wherein Oliver and a brigade of mentor chefs help disadvantaged youth develop culinary skills.
Graduating from the program with top honors, Craze was named Oliver’s natural successor and was given £120,000 to establish a business and the license to a pub worth £50,000.
Though he says he “only wanted a job,” Craze admits he was drawn to the culinary world when he saw how Oliver differed from his perception of chefs as fancy people with big hats.
“Jamie was a bit more rock and roll, wearing jeans and T-shirts… He’s like me, he loves music, plays the drums and he has kids.”
What probably clinched his win, he said, was when he made bread for Oliver, which none of the others in the program could do. As luck would have it, he was good at baking bread, because he used to make bread at home with his father.
The win was a big break for someone who comes from a family of West London criminals. As a young boy, he recalls, he was somewhat like the naughty Artful Dodger in the musical based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” Dropping out of school at age 15, he worked at a succession of low-paying jobs, from being a factory worker to being a carpet fitter to being a gardener in a cemetery.
“I was pretty rough around the edges,” he says of his early days.
All that seems long ago and far away, what with his polished demeanor and refined social skills. Today, as the star of the cooking show “Rude Boy Food,” which airs on the Asian Food Channel, Craze explores street food from around the world, then replicates them in his kitchen with his own personal touch.
Whether it’s paella or plantain chips, Craze gives them all a playful makeover. Only his mischievous grins and exuberant dancing as he prepares food in the kitchen hint of a somewhat unconventional past.
“Rude Boy Food” airs on the Asian Food Channel every Thursday, 11 p.m. For more information, visit www.asianfoodchannel.com.
Poached barramundi with yellow Darwin sauce and ‘bok choy’
(Although chef Aaron Craze learned this dish in Australia, it’s very Oriental in flavor. The lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, in particular, suggest strongly of Thai cuisine. They impart a very appetizing aroma to the dish.)
Heat the cooking oil in a wok or large pan. Add the onions, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, tomatoes and chili peppers. Sauté until the mixture becomes fragrant.
Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Stir in the turmeric, sugar and salt. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add the fish fillets and continue simmering until fillets are fully cooked, around 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets). Transfer the fillets and the sauce to a serving platter. Blanch the bok choy in boiling water for about one minute then plunge them into ice water for another one minute. Drain them then arrange on top of the fish. Garnish with basil and coriander leaves. Makes two to four servings.
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Remove the stems from the kaffir lime leaves before slicing them.
The local name for barramundi is apahap. If you can’t find barramundi, you can substitute lapu-lapu or maya-maya fillets.
Galangal is similar to ginger root but mellower in flavor. It’s available in some supermarkets and in weekend markets.