Anniversary Special: Exclusive Interview with Amcarmen’s Kitchen by Jialing Mew

Anniversary Special: Exclusive Interview with Amcarmen’s Kitchen by Jialing Mew

Jialing and I have been friends ever since our first year of University back in February of 2011. In fact, our Facebook Friendversary was just a couple of days ago on April 11 and we celebrated a decade of friendship – four years together in Australia, and 6 years of LDF (long distance friendship). Besides us having the same passion for design, we both love everything about food! We even started Muffin Making Monday’s where Jialing would come over to my place every Monday to bake muffins together for breakfast for the upcoming week ahead. We also started something called Fatness Friday’s, but it really only lasted for two weeks I think, where we’d explore new cafés every Friday for lunch after our morning lecture.

A couple of months ago, I think somewhere in February, Jialing ran this brilliant idea with me about doing an interview for my blog anniversary this year! So we scheduled a date in March last month and would you believe, six years of long distance friendship and this was the first time EVER that we did a video and voice call? We would usually just randomly drop WhatsApp messages to each other throughout the day/weeks! After an hour – almost – of banter and a quick catch up, we proceeded with our more than an hour-long interview.

Allison & JialingLeft: Jialing ; Right: Allison

“What is your most memorable achievement/biggest success?”

I think my most memorable achievement since starting Amcarmen’s Kitchen 7 years ago would have to be my Auguest series. In a nutshell, it’s where I invite other foodie friends, both those I know in person or online through Instagram, to take over my blog for the whole month of August. If you want to know more on the series, I’ll drop a link in this interview: Amcarmen’s Kitchen: Auguest Rundown.

When I first started my series, I began with four people, one of them was even my mom, because I couldn’t find anyone else besides her and you of course! Though this year will be my 6th year in running my Auguest series, I think it really only kicked off just last year, since that’s where I made more foodie friends online. That was during the time where I had just moved back to the Philippines and reached out to a whole different audience and community of local Filipino foodies.

Another memorable achievement, or more like just memorable, that I must mention was last year I started joining more Instagram food challenges and collaborations run by other foodies. Some of the challenges that I joined had prizes, and I’m proud to mention that I won one of them! I’ll also share the link to my entry in this interview: #LODINGNocheBuena Challenge

Christmas 'Spaghetti' with Meat-free BaublesAmcarmen’s Kitchen: Christmas ‘Spaghetti’ with Meat-free Baubles (Vegan-friendly)

It was a great way for me to showcase my creativity, skills, and techniques to a wider audience range. Other than that, I also get to meet the people who organise these challenges, as well as the people who participate in them. We get to know, connect, and support each other in the long run. From there, I also took the initiative to run my own food challenges and start my own food community on Instagram known as Foodies United PH together with another foodie friend that I met on the social media platform.

I think so far those are my most memorable achievements ever since starting my blog, other than of course the obvious achievement of running Amcarmen’s Kitchen for seven years now!

Jialing: Obviously you know that I am very supportive of your successes, but you also know that I really enjoy your failures.

So my next question is, “what was your biggest blog fail so far?” And make it a good one, and I want photos!

Oh gosh, to be honest, I don’t even document my failures in the kitchen and I don’t ever post a failed recipe on my blog. One of the main reasons why I don’t do that is because people do follow, or are inspired by my recipes, and if I share a failed recipe, then chances are they’re going to fail too because it wasn’t even a successful recipe to begin with.

I remember one of my colleagues asked me a question, “has there been any recipes that [I’ve] cooked that [I] actually don’t like” and I told her that when a recipe doesn’t work or it fails, it doesn’t go on my blog. If I really want it to work though, like if it’s a good recipe and I just somehow mucked it up, then I’ll either try to salvage it – if possible – or try again until I get it right.

This is also one of the reasons why I like to plan and cook my recipes ahead of time so that in case something happens, I have time to think of a new recipe if I really don’t like it at all, or try again and again until I’m happy with it and so that I still have something to share on my blog.

But, if you really want to know some of my kitchen fails – well it’s not so much of a fail, it’s more like what you would call ‘hazardous cooking’ – I remember making a dessert pizza of Mixed Berries and Chocolate. I used chocolate as the ‘sauce’ base to the pizza and I had it baking away in the oven. I briefly took it out to check if the chocolate had melted, and if so, I’d top it off with the berries and place it back into the oven to bake further. I ‘checked’ by sticking my finger into the chocolate sauce that, you know, just came out of a piping hot oven, and to no surprise, burnt my finger. My first instinct was to lick the chocolate off from my finger and in return ended up burning my tongue as well. I usually write about these mishaps in my blog posts towards the end of the recipe so look out for them! They’re usually pretty hilarious and some can be a way to learn how you can salvage certain food if you ever come across the same mishap.

Nutella & Mixed Berries PizzaAmcarmen’s Kitchen: Nutella & Mixed Berries Pizza

But wait, do you actually want the recipe fails?

Jialing: No I think that was good, I mean you already kind of mentioned what happens with your recipe process. Unless you have certain failed recipes?

Allison: No I don’t think so, or not that I can remember or name any from the top of my head right now, also because, when I look for recipes or inspiration, I actually look for something that I like, so if it’s something that I don’t like, like you’re not going to catch me making a cucumber recipe, because I don’t like cucumber for example. Unless it’s something like a Greek salad that has cucumbers in it, then I probably would have to because it’s part of the salad, but other than that, it’s not like I’m going to use that as a main ingredient if I can substitute it out.

Jialing: Interesting, so that actually brings me to one of my other questions, but we’ll be skipping a couple, but I think that’s fine, let’s go with the flow of the interview.

One of my questions is actually, “is there anything ingredient that we won’t ever expect to see you doing on your blog? What is your least favourite thing to cook with or something that you would never want to cook with?”

Okay, so I guess it comes down to food preferences as well, like I don’t like cucumbers. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like them. Raisins and cilantro are on my list of foods I don’t like too.

Jialing: Okay so this brings me to the surprise portion of the interview. I’ll come back to the other questions afterwards.

For the past 6 years you’ve been giving me all these super fantastic Auguest challenges, so now for your anniversary, “I’m challenging you to make a dish using the ingredients you hate the most!”

Nooooo! Oh noooooo! Wait so do I have to use all three of them?

Jialing: You can pick two. The dish has to have two of the three ingredients that you mentioned.

Allison: Do I have to eat it?

Jialing: Yeah of course! It has to be good, you even said so yourself “it’s not going on your blog unless you like it.” It’s your anniversary challenge so you have to do it! I mean, you don’t have to do it for your anniversary, but at some point during 2021 you’re going to have to do it.

Allison: Well, I think it would be fun to do it though for my blog’s anniversary. I normally post a recipe for an anniversary cake every year, so I can have another post featuring this ‘dish’ that you’re challenging me to do.

Jialing: Cilantro, cucumber, raisin cake?

Allison: Nooooooo!

Jialing: Anyway, it’s my anniversary present to you because something that you had previously found to be a negative experience, is going to be turned into a positive experience, so I’m changing your life!

Allison: Now that I think of it, I think there’s a recipe that I know of that has both cucumbers and raisins in it, and it’s actually something that I do like, but remove it so that I actually like it. So yeah, I’m going to try that recipe but have it included in it so that I will actually eat it. So yeah, okay I do have a recipe in mind and it actually fits with my theme for this month so that’s good. Challenge accepted! I’m going to accept your challenge and actually do it. Well technically speaking it is actually something that I do like to eat, it’s just that I put the raisins aside.

Jialing: That was my surprise; it came out early so now I can go back to the questions that got skipped.

Now that we’ve talked about what you would never cook, “what recipes on your blog do you actually cook a lot? Which dish – or dishes – is one of your staple things that you have on regular rotation?”

Okay before I answer this question, I have a little disclaimer for everyone. Since the later part of 2019, I’ve unofficially labelled my Instagram page as “Pescatarian, Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian, and Vegan.” Despite that, I still eat chicken regularly, but I don’t share any more chicken recipes on my blog to keep in line with that. So, one of the dishes that I repetitively cook regularly, that you can also find on my blog is Hainanese Chicken Rice.

Jialing: Another dish that is also eaten with cucumber!

Allison: Yes, I don’t put cucumber on mine because the cucumber is more like a decoration on the side rather than it being a main part of the dish. So why waste money for ‘decoration’ if I’m not going to eat it anyway? And then another dish that actually also has cucumber – for decoration – as well and that I regularly cook at home is Nasi Lemak with fried chicken and sautéed water spinach with sambal on the side. Other dishes would have to be the very classic Filipino staples such as adobo and sinigang, choice of protein would range from chicken, to fish, and shrimps.

Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice)Amcarmen’s Kitchen: Nasi Lemak

Okay so my next question is, “how has being a food blogger changed the way you view or interact with food?”

I think this would be a good time for a little back story. When I was younger – or when I say I was younger I mean from up until before I left for university – I never actually set foot in the kitchen, or well I have but it wasn’t so that I could help my mom out with either the preparing or cooking of our daily meals. It wasn’t until ten years ago, back in 2011, where I headed off for my first year of university in Sydney, Australia; I was living alone and I had no close relatives or friends.

I didn’t know how to cook at all, or well, I did know a few dishes up my sleeve, but still, I didn’t even know how to make sunny side up eggs or how long to boil an egg for if I wanted soft or hard boiled eggs. I even boiled potatoes whole, not knowing that if I had cut them up into smaller chunks, they’d cook faster and I wouldn’t have to wait an hour to make myself some mashed potatoes! In addition, I had no rice cooker, and I didn’t know how to make rice on the stove so instead, I bought pre-cooked rice that you can just pop in the microwave and it’d be ready in 90 seconds – Uncle Roger, please don’t kill me! Just going by that, I had no idea how I survived my first year living all by myself!

So moving forward, after my first year of university, I spent my summer holidays in the kitchen back home with my Mom. I had asked her to teach me how to cook the basic dishes that she would always cook for us growing up because to be honest, I didn’t want to go through another year living in Australia not knowing how to cook a decent meal for myself.

I don’t know why but I had this fear of recipes. Just reading it and looking at how many ingredients you have to use and the step-by-step method – like it actually really scared me. I eventually overcame that fear and learnt how to make other dishes besides the ones that my mom taught me. Sydney is rich in multiculturalism, both in the diverse race of people living in the city and in the food you can explore. That’s how it triggered my interest to want to cook and experience other cuisines – cuisines you would otherwise never get back home anyway.

After my second year, I returned home once again for the summer holidays and this time I found myself teaching my mom how to cook the recipes that I learnt – I learnt from my mom, and my mom learnt from me. So I guess now, from there, at least we had something in common that we could both do. I remember asking my mom, “what if I wasn’t into cooking, like what would you think of me as a person?” to which she replied, “oh you’d be such a boring person then” with no hint of remorse in her tone for saying that!

After that, I continued cooking and learning throughout my third and fourth year of university, and of course sharing my knowledge with my mom in between, during my summer breaks. I not only shared my knowledge, but I also shared my food through hosting dinners for my friends and housemates when living in Australia. It wasn’t until my fourth year that I started Amcarmen’s Kitchen – formerly known back then as Kitchen Headquarters), on 16th April 2014. My first post was actually a very spontaneous one – I started a blog but I had nothing to post that day! So I made an omelette with anything and everything that I had leftover in my fridge, just because I didn’t want to do my assignments. I’ll add the link to my very first post in this interview: Cheesy Mushroom Omelette with Avocado Mint Greek Yoghurt & Wilted Spinach. Yes, my ‘anything and everything’ leftover was quite the fancy one *cheeky grin*

Cheesy Mushroom Omelette with Avocado Mint Greek Yoghurt & Wilted SpinachAmcarmen’s Kitchen: Cheesy Mushroom Omelette with Avocado Mint Greek Yoghurt & Wilted Spinach

From there, I posted a recipe three times a week, and even had themed days such as our Muffin Making Mondays! Now that I think about it, were you there for the most part of my first year of blogging?

Jialing: Yeah mate, I saw so many of your first couple of years’ recipes! I even remember the board that you used to take all your photos!

Allison: Yeah you were physically there for a majority of them. And yes, for everyone’s information, I used a board from my shelf to use as a white background for my food photos because the table we had at the student housing I was living in had a very dirty plastic table cover. The board that I used though wasn’t particularly big and was square in size; I had to fit everything into a little square, which technically was perfect anyway for Instagram but proved to be difficult when I had so many ingredients to feature and had to squish them all into a square! I think I actually have a picture of the board that you can see in-shot in one of my pictures. I’ll share it in this interview for everyone to see!

Hainanese Chicken RiceAmcarmen’s Kitchen: Hainanese Chicken Rice

So I guess that massive back story explains how I changed the way I view food.

Jialing: Yeah that was a very long term change!

Allison: Indeed! From me not knowing how to cook, to developing a more artistic eye and being very aware of how I want my food to look, or how I want it to be presented, down to what plate I should use. I do have a post on my blog where I talked about My Kitchen Journey – so if you guys actually want to see more of how I took photos of my food back then, it’s all there from my 1st to 4th year of university before I started Amcarmen’s Kitchen. You can actually see how it changed drastically over the years.

And I’ve also started exploring/experimenting with classic dishes and putting a vegan twist to it by using mushrooms or tofu as a meat alternative. I do have some surprises for my blog’s anniversary month based on the current theme that I have going on right now – Flavours of Southeast Asia. You’ll see familiar recipes but with a vegan and/or pescatarian twist to them.

*I decided to add this portion of our interview as a video recording since we went a little off-topic from the original question, but also still somewhat relevant to where my style of cooking has moved towards to ever since I started Amcarmen’s Kitchen, as I talked about my recipe for Crispy Tofu Kare-Kare with Mushroom Bagoong:

Alright, so now that we’ve learnt about your very long seven years of your food journey – from someone who didn’t know how to make rice to someone who has standards on what plate to use when presenting a dish – “what is your biggest piece of wisdom/advice that you want to impart on all your friends and followers?”

Are these tips for people who want to blog or cooking tips in general?

Jialing: I guess it can be either, or even both.

Allison: For cooking tips, there’s not much I can say other than don’t be scared to try new recipes and experiment with different flavours. If you’re scared that you’re not going to like it, my advice would be to go out and try it first – like that’s how I go into cooking different cuisines. For example, if I have no experience in cooking Mediterranean food, I’d go to a Mediterranean restaurant and try their food first to see if I like it or not, and of course to gather inspiration on dishes I would like to recreate at home.

Like speaking in general, you wouldn’t have all the spices and ingredients for Mediterranean cuisines readily available in your home, and if you don’t like it then it’s such a waste of money and of products. So definitely go try it out first – that’s how it started out with my Mom and I – we go to a restaurant, try out a dish and if we like it, we try to recreate it at home with our own twist. Because of that, whenever we go to a restaurant, we never order something that we can actually cook at home because for my Mom, “I can cook it so why should I order it?” and that’s kind of my mentality now as well!

In terms of blogging, all I can say is that if you really like to write or if it’s something that you like to do, I would recommend that you try it out. However, it’s not necessarily for everyone because it can be time consuming. I used to post three times a week, and that was when I was still studying in Australia. I had more free time then because there were days that I didn’t have classes or work, whereas now I work an 8-5 schedule, 5 day a week – 6 days when I was working in Brunei. Weekends are the only time I get to rest but it’s also the only time that I actually get to cook for my blog. If you’re going to start a blog, I guess don’t be too ambitious like me with three posts a week, unless you have the time. It takes me the whole morning to cook a dish for my blog; I’d start at 9 in the morning and go up until noon just to make one dish while documenting the whole process too, and that’s not even including the writing part and editing of photos and videos yet!

It is tough, but if I can do it while having a full time job, I’m sure you can too. If it’s your passion and if it’s what you want to do, you’ll never get tired of it.

Jialing: Nice one! So don’t be afraid to try new things with food, and blogging is not for everyone, but you never know! So I guess we’ll wrap things up here, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you, and happy anniversary Amcarmen’s Kitchen!

Allison: Thank you so much as well for this fun interview!