The Jakarta Post
With new TV programs and opportunities to take her talents to US networks, celebrity Chef Farah Quinn has a lot on her plate.
Chef Farah Quinn is listing her many projects in the pipeline when she reflects on the first time we met, almost five years ago.
Then starting out with the TV program A la Chef, she arrived for that interview dressed for the boardroom, in a gray business suit, ruffled blouse and heels. She was a little hesitant, perhaps looking to impress, something she acknowledges with a laugh.
'Well, I was still shy back then,' Farah jokes.
Fitness-fanatic Farah went on to spice things up on the airwaves. Young and good-looking, she was a qualified pastry chef who had acquired an American twang from living in the United States during high school and her early 20s.
She pioneered the new category of 'sexy chef'; she says she is bemused by the phenomenon, which now extends to buff male kitchen dab hands.
'I came at the perfect time. Now there are so many sexy chefs out there. It's getting a bit ridiculous. If you search Indonesian female chefs, what comes up looks like a FHM spread. For me, I wasn't looking to be a sexy chef, it was just part of me caring about my body and my health,' she says.
'Today it's like, 'oh that girl looks sexy, let's have her cook and put her on TV'. But that's not right. You have to know what you are doing as a chef. I'm a bit disappointed with that, but I am also happy to be a door opener for them.'
Despite her protestations, sexy she was (she also has been known to do a saucy magazine spread or two); the joke was that her cooking show suddenly attracted a loyal following of male viewers. With her business savvy honed by studying fi nance in university, she made the most of her celebrity to win product endorsements aplenty as well as major magazine covers. She acknowledges the past fi ve years have been 'amazing', with the birth of her son, Armand, and her career success, which came by chance during a visit back to Indonesia.
But there was the inevitable period of adjustment; she describes her almost overnight success and being thrust into the public eye as 'very shocking'. Living in Jakarta was also new to Farah, who grew up in Sumatra.
'It took time for me to fi nd good friends. You don't know who to trust, or where you will fi t in. As a normal individual, you need those personal friendships. All my friends were in the US,' she says. 'So I was a bit lonely at the beginning. I just focused on my work, but now it's all a bit better.'
And not everybody found Farah to their taste. Like she says, some criticized her for seemingly putting her sexiness on the front burner. Many initially dismissed her as nothing more than eye candy and a fl ash in the celebrity-obsessed pan.
'To hear people judge me at the beginning was diffi cult, but I had to realize that I needed to deal with it,' she says. 'I could show them the kind of person I am, that I am a good person trying to do what is my passion. And a lot of people changed. People will tell me, 'when I fi rst saw you, I couldn't stand you, but now I'm your fan'.'
She has found her support group now; given her multicultural upbringing, she feels very comfortable mixing in the expatriate crowd.
But a sexy chef has a shelf life, too, Farah says. A la Chef has run its course, and Farah, 33, has bigger fi sh to fry, including hosting the fi rst season of Top Chef Indonesia on SCTV and a juicy ' but still embryonic ' business deal with none other than Donald Trump.
'It's a fantastic show,' she says of Top Chef. 'It's different from Masterchef because the chefs have to be professional chefs and have a strong background in the hotel or restaurant industry.'
She is filling the formidably fancy shoes of Padma Lakshmi from the well-known US show, but she says she relished the opportunity to work with the 'boys' of the all-male judging panel: chef-restaurateurs Chris Salans and Will Meyrick, Vindex Tengker of The Dharmawangsa Jakarta and Henry A. Bloem of the Indonesian Chefs Association.
'Working with those boys is unbelievable. I was friends with them before, but working with them was such an amazing experience,' she says. 'It's actually kind of easy for me, a nice job. I'm just hosting and tasting the food, while the judges are doing the hard work.'
Time constraints meant that, to host the show, she had to say goodbye to her original TV cooking show, which has taken her on jaunts across the nation. She is in talks with another TV station for a new show, which will refl ect where she is in her life today.
'It was such an amazing experience. I got to travel, try all the food, see how all the traditional things are made,' she says of A la Chef. 'Now I'm ready for something that is more me, closer to home, more reality, like maybe using my own kitchen to cook.
'Before, it was about getting to know me. Now they know me, and I want to show a more personal side to things. I want to make it really casual and a bit more intimate.'
Her multicultural background and profi ciency in English are bringing even bigger opportunities. She excitedly tells of signing up with the marketing arm of the Trump Organization in the United States.
She has not met the Big Don himself, but did meet his son, who got his father's stamp of approval for the tie-up. She cannot reveal everything about their projects, but they are working on a program for an American audience that draws on her appeal as an Asian celebrity with interests in food, travel and fashion.
'I'm very proud,' Farah says. 'I think one of the reasons that they were interested in me was because I feel completely at home in the US.'
Meanwhile, Armand is growing up fast. She tells of how he shot up several inches during a recent visit with his paternal grandparents in Montana (of rumors about the state of her marriage to Carson Quinn, all Farah says is, 'He is always my best friend.')
Farah is admittedly ambitious. She has many projects in mind, including a home product range, but realizes she needs to do things one at a time.
'I will want something, and imagine getting it, think it over it my mind, and eventually it happens. I am very determined that way,' she said. 'There is only a certain window of time for you to do things, I know that, so I want to do as much as I can.'
America awaits, and there are sexy chefs ready to step into her apron. But even if she does make the move to the States, she will not be forsaking Indonesia. 'This is my homeland and this is also where the money is. There are so many opportunities to be had here. I defi nitely will be coming back, whatever happens.'
' Photos Ricko Sandy
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