'The sexy chef' visits New Zealand

By Nici Wickes

Indonesia's star chef flies into town.

Indonesian celebrity chef Farah Quinn, who has millions of online followers, is one of the people helping to spread the good word about New Zealand. Photo / Supplied
Indonesian celebrity chef Farah Quinn, who has millions of online followers, is one of the people helping to spread the good word about New Zealand. Photo / Supplied

What's Auckland Airport doing bringing an Indonesian chef, dubbed "the sexy chef", for a tour of all of our best destinations? Aren't they supposed to be in the business of scheduling flights so they don't wake the neighbours at unreasonable hours?

Well, it turns out the airport company is much more forward-thinking than that, and one of its big goals is to make sure that we keep the flow of visitors flocking to our shores, promoting us as a premium destination that offers luxury experiences for the international market. There is a cunning plan for how to achieve this - using the pulling power of social media.

Glenn Wedlock, the general manager of Aeronautical Commercial at Auckland Airport, says it's simply a matter of moving with the new world.

"People are making choices about where they travel all the time. Word of mouth is still the most critical factor in their decision-making but nowadays that word of mouth is likely to come from Facebook or Twitter. With this in mind, we look to people who have a strong online circle, from countries where we are looking to encourage growth from in the visitor numbers."

So when they were looking at how to increase the numbers from the already fast-growing Indonesian statistics, all roads led to celebrity chef Farah Quinn.

To say she's well-connected is like saying Rafael Nadal plays a bit of tennis.

She's a household name in Indonesia thanks to her hit TV cooking show Ala Chef, has more than a million Facebook fans and close to a quarter of a million followers on Twitter. Now that's what I call a celebrity chef. On a whirlwind six-day tour of New Zealand, I managed to catch up with her, but not before getting to know her via cyberspace, and in doing so I began to see why she's earned the title "the sexy chef".

She's drop-dead gorgeous, looks so fit and healthy you might not guess that she's a qualified pastry chef, and though her TV show is designed to "encourage women back into the kitchen" I'd bet more than a few of her followers are men who don't know what the inside of a kitchen looks like. But along with the sexed-up image there's also Farah the supporter of teaching children to cook by visiting schools, Farah the wife and mother (to her four-year-old son, Armand), Farah the endorser of various food products but most of all, Farah the passionate cook.

Born in Bandung, Java, she finished her high school years in the US and from there embarked on a culinary career working and studying in the field of pastry under famous US pastry chef, Ewald Notter. She eventually opened a restaurant with her husband in 2005 - the same year she was invited to the G8 summit at Sea Island Georgia where she created speciality desserts for the likes of First Lady Laura Bush and other world delegates. Then, three-and-a-half years ago, the offer of a lifetime came along - the chance to return to Indonesia for Ala Chef, a cooking show where she gets to explore the regional cuisine and produce of Indonesia. I am amazed at the reach she has, evidenced by, for example, the 17,000 comments posted in response to even one of her recipes on her website. Indonesia boasts that it is the social media capital of Asia with 50 million IP addresses and 100 million users, so perhaps these numbers shouldn't surprise us.

Now based in Jakarta, Farah's life is a busy whirlwind of touring, making the TV show, fulfilling charity commitments and being invited to travel the world. "My daily life is like a fantastic dream," she tells me when I finally catch up with her. "I am so lucky and all I want to do is share these experiences with others."

She's gentle and interested, speaks with a soft American twang, passionate about food and less enamoured with the "sexy chef" label she's been given. I can hear the shy weariness in her voice when I bring it up. "Well" she sighs "I like to keep fit and healthy so that I have enough energy for my busy life and as a by-product of that, I suppose I end up being in shape and well, I suppose some people might think that's sexy butw for me it's more about having some balance in my life."

When she begins talking about food the shyness disappears and is replaced by genuine enthusiasm. Farah waxes lyrical about the "fresh and thrilling food of Manado cuisine, in north Sulawesi" and she adores the food from her childhood spent growing up in Palembang, Sumatra. "The most famous dish from Palembang is pempek [fish cakes] and I love them, dipped in a sweet vinegar sauce."

Her depth of knowledge for the regional variations is impressive and when I ask her for her favourite ingredient there's no hesitation: "Chilli! Life would be dull without this spice. But I also think that Indonesian cuisine has two others that make it distinctly different - lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves." To her, these epitomise Indonesian cuisine - spiciness and heat, balanced by more gentle, fragrant flavours.

What does she think of our cuisine? "This is my first visit to New Zealand but I've been using your products for ages. I love your dairy products - the butter, cream and cheeses. They're great.

"Now I know where it comes from - it's just amazing, the scenery is unbelievably beautiful."

Her itinerary while in New Zealand includes a visit to Kauri Cliffs (by helicopter), dining at Euro on Princes Wharf and Mudbrick Vineyard on Waiheke, Queenstown for an overnight stay and all the while she tweets and updates her Facebook site to ensure that her fans are along for the ride. "I want to inspire people, I want to share my daily life with them because I am lucky to be doing this and I want to share those experiences. I want to promote the good things that I do."

And the powers that be will be happy with that if it can influence even a portion of her audience to decide that New Zealand ought to be their destination of choice.

"I believe in New Zealand. It's so green and beautiful and the people are so friendly" she tells me. Her Facebook posts are mostly in Indonesian so the sentences jangle with unfamiliar words but every now and again something familiar pops out, like "Mudbrick" and "Waiheke" so, thinking that two can play at this cyperspace game, I decide to put it through Google translate.

Here's what I got back: "Lunch at Mudbrick Vineyard with Armand, Waiheke Island, New Zealand. New Zealand is the country that amazing! Superb scenery, delicious food and super-friendly people."

The uploaded photo shows her sitting serenely against the most stunning backdrop of a proud hillside shaded with dense dark green manuka, blue water stretches beyond and then the unmistakable outline of Rangitoto rises up as if to prove her words correct. Our place, on show to millions of others. Now that's clever marketing.

* Check out Viva's Facebook page, the place to find out what's hot in fashion, beauty, food, wine and design.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 23 Aug 2014 00:47:40 Processing Time: 639ms