My wonderland

A bit about my family

I was born in Malaysia to a family that loves food. My mother is of Portuguese Dutch decent from Malacca is a passionate cook while my father is of Indian descent, and the driving force behind sourcing the great ingredients she uses. It was always very important for our family to sit down for meals together, especially on Sundays when the extended family would descent upon our household. There was never less than four dishes on the table at every meal – a curry or stew, a seafood dish, a vegetable dish and an egg dish. Eating out was frowned upon by my mum, and homecooked food was a must at every meal if she could help it!


Time in the UK

I spent 11 years in the UK, first at boarding school in Staffordshire then on to University in London to study Architecture. I chose self-catering dorms in order to force myself to learn how to cook, as even boiling an egg was a challenged and my cooking skills extended to making toast or instant noodles.


It was my time in London that opened my eyes to the world of European food. Italian, Spanish, Modern European, German and of course, good ol’ British pub food. I remember rushing home from class to catch the day’s episode of ‘Ready Steady Cook’, which taught me to use minimal ingredients and cook with what you have to make fantastic dishes.


Time in Malaysia

I moved home to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia in 2007 in search of a new career with food but somehow landed myself hosting my own Radio show. It was there I started reviewing restaurants and writing articles, along with expanding my knowledge of Asian cuisine. With so much cheap, fresh and tasty local street food as well as an enormous amount of restaurants open 24hours, I didn’t need to cook local food and driving for hours in search of a special dish was common. Local food aside, my weekly restaurant reviews allowed me to expand my knowledge of Australian and European cuisine and produce.


I met my now husband Michael Elfwing, a talented Swedish born, Australian Chef in Kuala Lumpur who further opened my eyes to the importance of using great ingredients to make great dishes. I’ve learnt so much from him and without access to his thousands of cookbooks for inspiration and techniques (one of them being Simon Bryant’s Veggies), I wouldn’t be where I am today! All our travels around the world and around Australia have been food driven, our schedule planned around which restaurants to eat at and which markets to visit.


Throwing dinner parties became a regular event in my life and my foodie friends and I even started our own Sunday Brunch Club.

I was offered the chance to host a street food and travel show for a local online food & TV portal, FriedChillies, and subsequently hosted my own cooking show recreating the street food dishes we created on our travels.


I kept up my radio reviews and written articles for my time in KL, and joined forces with my sisters to open my mum’s dream restaurant Simply Mel’s that serves up homecooked ‘Kristang’ cuisine. My role was more on conceptualizing the restaurant, while my older sister has taken the business to its success with my mum in the kitchen seven days a week, cooking for her loyal customers.


Time in Australia

After we had our son Cameron, my husband and I decided it was time to move back to Australia for him to grow up. We had visited Margaret River, WA on holiday before, and as fate would have it, he was offered a job and we ended moving within a few months, 3 toy poodles and all.


There is so much great local produce everywhere you look, and it’s here that I really learnt to work with vegetables, some of which I’d never heard of before. I’m lucky that we’re connected to so many of the local farmers and have access to amazing produce in the Farmer’s Markets. I can spend hours wondering around Bunbury Farmer’s Market and it never fails to amaze me that I can find something new to cook with every time. I’ve even been truffle hunting a few times and again, it’s amazing to see where what you’re eating comes from instead of simply picking it off a shelf wrapped in plastic.


About the dishes

One of the first dishes I tasted upon moving here was at our now good friend’s farm, Della Fay. Michael and Allison Kelly welcomed us into their home for dinner and I had never tasted quinoa, or seen cauliflower and pomegranate paired together. They grow most of their own fruit and vegetables, and I was blown away by the flavour and freshness of the ingredients. We’ve learnt so much from them and have even helped them harvest their olives this year, giving me such an insight into the ‘farm to table’ experience I’ve never had before. Having seen the hard work that goes into hand-picking the olives, we now only use their olive oil for its great taste and of course, are careful not to spill any!


I reinterpreted the salad and made it my own, adding my favourite seasonal ingredients and pulses for a different flavour and to add more texture. My family love it, and when I saw the ad for the competition, I knew I had to enter it. I had one day til the closing deadline and managed to enter two dishes into the completion. Green Pea and Ham Soup is one of my go to ‘homesick-from-England’ dishes that I used to make, and this time I made a version of it using scallops, bacon and parmesan crisps to warm up on these wintry days.


I cook for my family everyday now just like my mother did (you’ll see from my Instagram account @alyelfwing) and I also hope to get my blog www.alyswonderland up and running again so I can share my recipes with anyone and everyone.


I’ve done a lot of things in my life, always letting it take me on a journey without much planning. The only thing that’s always been consistent is my love of food and cooking. I’m certain that this is a part of me, and my family, that will never change and only get stronger with time.

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