WHEN you hear the phrase “foodie” being uttered, normally the image that appears in your mind is that of a food lover.
Marina Mustafa certainly loves food but she does way more than just sample tasty food. It’s hard to list all the food-related activities she engages in because she does so much.
She writes cookbooks (in Bahasa Malaysia and English), endorses kitchen appliances and food products, develops recipes for clients, contributes articles to newspapers and magazines, hosts cooking shows on TV and online, conducts cooking demonstrations ... the list goes on.
She was a restaurateur too. Together with her sisters, she opened an eatery called Cafe Dania, which became very popular and lasted for 14 years until a health situation forced her to take things a bit easier.
No longer able to take the long hours required to run a restaurant, she and her sisters decided to call it a day.
But instead of giving up on food, Marina found other ways to leverage on her passion for it. In fact, she gives new meaning to the word “foodie”.
If there ever is an all-round food lover, she is it. She talks to Savvy about the wide range of food-related activities that she’s currently involved in and how she manages to cope with the help of her children.
DID YOU GO TO COOKING SCHOOL OR ARE YOU SELF-TAUGHT?
I graduated from Australia with a business degree — not a culinary one — but as it turns out, all the work I’m doing is food-related. And yes, it’s all self-taught.
Well, I come from a cooking family. My mother loved cooking but so did my aunts, uncles and cousins. Cooking was a family activity for us. As kids, we all have our role models and mine was my mum, who loved concocting new and unusual dishes which always tantalised us. She inspired me to learn how to cook.
HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERED REOPENING CAFE DANIA OR OPENING A NEW RESTAURANT NOW THAT YOUR HEALTH SCARE IS OVER?
I loved operating Cafe Dania but it’s not something viable for me at this stage in my life because if I owned a restaurant, I’d want to do the cooking.
I loved being connected with my customers and making them feel like they are eating at home. But this is something that I wouldn’t have time to do and besides, this kind of home-cooked oriented restaurant would not be profitable today.
OF ALL THE THINGS YOU DO, WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST FULFILLING?
Personally, it would be cooking for my family, for which there are no plans for retirement anytime soon. It’s something that I take great joy in doing and will continue to do as long as I can.
But professionally, I would say it would be my very interactive cooking demonstrations which many people seem to enjoy.
WHICH ACTIVITY IS THE MOST LUCRATIVE?
Endorsing products by international brands.
ONE ACTIVITY THAT DOESN’T GENERATE MUCH MONEY IS AUTHORING COOKBOOKS. YET YOU’VE DONE 10 OF THEM. WHY BOTHER?
It’s safe to say I won’t be able to retire on the royalties I get from these cookbooks but I do them because I want to share my recipes and knowledge about cooking. You could say I write books for three groups.
Firstly, I want to do this for my children. This is my legacy for them.
Secondly, I want to have a record of the amazing recipes passed down to me by my mum, aunts and uncles. This is to honour them.
Lastly, I want to do this for the public. I want my recipes to reach as many people as possible. That’s why I do cookbooks as well as all kinds of things online.
YOU INVOLVE YOUR CHILDREN IN YOUR ACTIVITIES. WHAT DO THEY DO EXACTLY?
All my children are somewhat involved in my food-related activities. My eldest son helped me self-publish my first cookbook many years ago. He did both the photography and the layout.
He also started my Facebook page and right now he’s working on setting up a new website for me.
My older daughter, who is now a cookbook author herself, is the one who helps me make YouTube cooking videos, which is something I’m into these days.
My younger son is the one who helps me behind the scenes during my cooking demonstrations. He also helps buy the ingredients. And my youngest daughter helps me with short Instagram videos.
YOUR YOUTUBE VIDEOS (WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/USER/MARINAMUSTAFACOOKS) ARE REALLY GOOD. IS IT TRUE YOUR DAUGHTER SHOOTS ALL THESE ON HER IPHONE?
Yes, isn’t it amazing what can be achieved these days with just a camera phone? I would normally discuss a concept with her and discuss possible angles and settings for the shoot.
Izarra would often introduce new ideas to make the videos interesting and new. Then she just shoots it on her phone and edits it on a computer. Technology has made possible what used to take a whole production house to do.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE CONTENT. DO YOUR CHILDREN HELP WITH THAT?
Actually, I do that on my own. While my son helped with my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/cookingwithmarinamustafa) and taught me how to use it, I’ve been updating it myself.
Everything about my work is very personal and I think my fans who “like” the page would know if I weren’t updating it myself.
HOW WEB-SAVVY ARE YOU?
Not as much as I would like to be but I’m okay. My children who are very web-savvy, have been my guiding light when it comes to anything tech-related. They teach me the basics and from there, I experiment.
It’s important to be web-savvy so that you don’t have to rely on others for every single thing you want to do online. My Facebook page is a perfect case in point. Once I learnt how to use it, I decided to manage it myself.
DO YOU BROWSE THE INTERNET MUCH FOR FOOD-RELATED MATTERS?
I browse the Net for the latest trends in food. I even look up the latest cooking videos to get ideas on how I could make my videos more interesting visually. And of course there are the recipes — so many of them out there! I usually browse through recipes to get new ideas or to improve existing recipes in my repertoire.
DO YOU PREFER TRADITIONAL KITCHEN EQUIPMENT OR MODERN GADGETS?
I like both. I am very sentimental about my traditional equipment like the batu tumbuk (mortar and pestle) and the periuk tembaga (copper pots), for example.
I feel these traditional cooking methods produce more flavourful dishes. But I use the pressure cooker a lot too. My pressure cooker has a permanent place on my kitchen countertop. I also love my food processor. So my kitchen is a mix of old and new, traditional and modern.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE FOOD-RELATED THAT YOU’D LIKE TO DO?
I have started my own range of sambal (chilli paste) plus several other food products that help to cut down on cooking time for those who are too busy to make these things from scratch.
It’s still early days but I want to eventually have an online store that sells these items.