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How Masterchef judges served up the ultimate example of mansplaining

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Kayleigh Dray
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A recent episode of Masterchef UK brought mansplaining to a whole new level. Read on, if you can bear it…

Any woman who’s fallen prey to the patronising art of mansplaining will know that it’s an experience akin to banging your head against a concrete wall.

It’s painful and pointless, yet that doesn’t stop certain men – and yes, in this case it is always men – feeling moved to patiently and very s-l-o-w-l-y explain things to us that a) we already know, or b) have no benefit or relevance to the situation at hand.

We’ve seen it happen on social media, we’ve seen it written into HBO’s Game of Thrones as a vital plot point and we’ve even seen a man try to explain the inspiration behind Indiana Jones’ iconic costume to the very same woman who actually designed the costume in the first place.

This week, though, we witnessed it on an episode of MasterChef UK. And it’s triggered an enormous response on social media.

During the show, Zaleha Kadir Olpin whipped up a nasi lemak — a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk that is considered by many to be the Malaysian national dish — for the judges to try.

She served it alongside a spicy dish called chicken rending, which is, again, extremely popular in both Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Singapore and Brunei.

“There was a special stall outside my school that sold the best nasi lemak so I used to save up pocket money on Fridays,” she explained, when asked why she’d chosen the recipe.

“The dish is very special to me.”

As Zaleha grew up in Malaysia and has been eating the dish since she was a child, you’d be forgiven for thinking that she knows exactly how the dish should be prepared.

However, Gregg Wallace – who is one of the show’s two male judges – immediately assumed an air of white male privilege.

“I like the rendang flavour, there’s a coconut sweetness,” he said, stopping short of reaching out and patting Zaleha on the head.

“However, the chicken skin isn’t crispy [as it is supposed to be]. It can’t be eaten and all the sauce is on the skin so I can’t eat it.”

It was an undeniably damning judgement – and one which saw Zaleha eliminated from the show at the end of the episode.

Which is fair enough, we guess: if a contestant messes up a key part of a dish, then, of course, they should be bumped from the competition. However, rendang is not supposed to be crispy. In fact, it’s made from stewing meat in spices and coconut milk until it is so tender that it falls apart – or, to put it in the words of one popular Malaysian food blogger, until you are left with nothing but “flavourful and tender chicken, with complex structure of flavours”.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before a plethora of people, including the Malaysian prime minister, took to Twitter to point this fact out.

“Does anyone eat chicken rendang ‘crispy’? #MalaysianFood” questioned Najib Razak.

Elsewhere, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Vicki Treadell, tweeted at Gregg: “Rendang is an iconic national dish not to be confused with Indonesian options.

“It is never crispy and should not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak.” 

Zaleha, moved by the support, said she made her rending the traditional way and would “not change it for the world”.

“Gutted to be eliminated on Masterchef UK but I stand by my traditional way of cooking Nasi Lemak,” she wrote. “Will not change it for the world.”

Zaleha continued: “The memories of my amazing time in the Masterchef kitchen will forever stay with me. Thank you so much for all your support and good wishes.

“As my friend said, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!”

Responding to the uproar, Gregg appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to offer his side of the debate – and it’s safe to say that he did a fair bit of backpedalling.

“What happened was, part of her dish was a rending,” he reminded us, “and I said that the skin wasn’t crispy.

“[But] I didn’t mean it should be fried, like fried chicken. What I meant was, it wasn’t cooked and it simply wasn’t cooked…”

The MasterChef judge continued: “Zaleha didn’t go out because her skin wasn’t crispy. She went out because the other cooks were better.

“If you look at it, you can tell the skin just wasn’t cooked. It’s white and flappy. ‘Crispy’ was the wrong word. But the skin wasn’t cooked.”

Hmm.

If this saga is anything to go by, it seems mansplaining is becoming more unpalatable than ever – and yet it still shows little sign of extinction.

Can a man just explain to us why that is, please?

Image: BBC

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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