The Chicken Controversy Causing an International Uproar

April  4, 2018

Getting eliminated from MasterChef UK has to be tough, a real blow to the ego. But having an entire country—including its Prime Minister—come to your defense, and protest your elimination, must be a pretty solid consolation prize.

This is exactly what happened to Zaleha Kadir Olpin, who, up until a week ago, was a competitor on the current season of MasterChef UK. Judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode eliminated the Malaysian born contestant for serving a chicken rendang dish that they considered not crispy enough. According to Olpin, and so many others, however, the dish is never served with a crunch.

Rendang, which originates from West Sumatra in Indonesia, consists of a meat, usually chicken or beef, slowly simmered in spices and coconut milk. The finished product skews tender, not crispy. Olpin served her rendang with nasi lemak, a fragrant rice dish popular in Malaysia, during the knockout round of the episode. "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 said upon presenting her food to the judges. "The dish is very special to me."

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Like any reality competition show, the judges responded with their thoughts. Wallace noted, “I like the rendang flavor, there's a coconut sweetness. However, the chicken skin isn't crispy. It can't be eaten and all the sauce is on the skin so I can't eat it." Olpin was subsequently eliminated, a decision that has sparked international outrage. Across Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, all places where rendang is popular, people sounded off to protest the judges' choice and critique the reaction to her dish.

Internet users did what they did best, drumming up a conversation on the dish’s authenticity and the ability of judges to weigh in on a dish with which they’re unfamiliar. Even the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, stepped into the arena, tweeting “Who eats ‘crispy’ chicken rendang?”

Olpin has yet to comment publicly on her controversial elimination, but she did post a picture of her final dish on Instagram, saying she stands by its preparation.

Amidst all the hubbub, Bloomberg released a video breaking down the controversy and confirming whether or not there was any merit to the judges' critique. They called upon a correspondent living in Singapore to test a local plate of rendang for himself. The dish, as restaurateur Isadora Chai explains, is braised, a technique that does not lend itself to crisping, well, anything. Perhaps, she suggests, the judges were thinking of the fried chicken that's commonly served with nasi lemak. The regional KFC responded to the mixup with a cheeky—and very aptly timed—advertisement:

What's next for the eliminated Olpin? Will the judges rescind—or at least acknowledge—their mistake? No official moves have been made. Until then, Rendangate rages on.

What do you think of the controversy? Tell us where you stand in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • nancy essig
    nancy essig
  • HalfPint
  • foofaraw
  • Rick
  • Valerio Farris
    Valerio Farris
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


nancy E. April 4, 2018
I hope they allow her back into the competition. One person's ignorance of her dish should not disqualify her
HalfPint April 4, 2018
Couldn't he have just said "I'm just not fan of flabby chicken skin"? So instead of critiquing a dish that he's OBVIOUSLY never eaten, it becomes a case of "It's not you, it's me". I'm totally Team Olpin.
Rick April 4, 2018
Yeah. I've not had this dish but I've had braised skin-on chicken and it's just not a texture I like. That brings up, of course, the issue of whether a dish should be judged on personal likes/dislikes or on execution. To take a really silly, extreme example, what if someone prepared awesome sushi but a judge really hated raw fish?
foofaraw April 4, 2018
PS: "nasi lemak, a fragrant crispy rice dish popular in Malaysia," I don't think nasi lemak is crispy either.
Even the writer is crispy lol.
Valerio F. April 4, 2018
Good point! All the talk of crispy had me confused. Consider it changed!