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TLC Southeast Asia is presenting a brand new cooking show that takes you to the streets of Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila and Kuala Lumpur!

Dubbed as “Wok With Us”, the series presents JJ from The MeatMen, Singapore’s online cooking channel, who will show audiences how simple it is to whip up their favourite Southeast Asian local dishes at home – however, the Singaporean cook will be cooking them all outdoors!

The MeatMen started off in 2013 with four very good friends who wanted to cook and drink beer over the weekends.

The MeatMen is made up of JJ, 33, Chris, 34, Yingda, 33, and Jon, 19.

“So it all started with JJ’s obsession to record the whole process of food creation through the lens. That passion soon spread on to the rest of us, and before long we were infected with the food-frenzy craze,” said The MeatMen.

After discovering a huge demand for quality Asian food recipes, the four guys began the journey of simplifying and bringing local recipe videos to social media.

Following the same concept as The MeatMen, TLC decided to collaborate with the Singapore cooking channel and take foodies on a trip to experience the street cuisine of Southeast Asia with their brand new series called “Wok With Us”!

Hi JJ, what’s the whole show about?
Basically in “Wok With Us”, we are going to various Asian cities like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Manila, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to shoot local recipe videos in an outdoor setting – so that is basically what the show is all about!

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JJ cooking at Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

How did the collaboration with TLC happen?
So the TLC people approached us because they are fans of The MeatMen! [laughs] They contacted us first and told us about their plans, and we ran through some ideas and came up with this project.

How did your passion with food first start?
If you look at my figure you would immediately know that I’m someone who likes to eat a lot! [laughs]

But well, my dad used to be a hawker, and my grandfather was a butcher. So all along my family has always been in the food business. But when my dad passed away I didn’t take over the business because I was doing animation at that time, and back then, I didn’t really know how to cook very well even though I have the passion for it. But in today’s age, information is very easy to obtain, and after over 200 hundred recipes and videos, you will eventually get better – it’s a very simple formula.

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JJ carefully  decorates the local dish.

So, who came up with the title for the show?
I would say it was a collaborative effort. Because coming up with a catchy name for a project is very tricky, and since most of my cooking involves a wok, we thought that it would be a good idea to put that in the title as I would be walking around with a wok on my back.

It is also a word rhyme with the word “walk”, because I’m travelling around and it’s like asking the audience to cook and travel with us, so we feel that the name is quite suitable.

How was the production like? Any challenges faced during the shooting?
The production is very interesting because we were shooting and cooking outdoors, so there are a lot of location challenges such as the unpredictable weather, which you really cannot control.

For example in Ho Chi Minh, while we were cooking and shooting on a bridge, there was suddenly a heavy downpour that came without warning, so we had to carry all the cooking utensils and ingredients and take shelter under the bridge. But luckily, the rain came just after we finished filming our final shot!

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JJ cooked mutton soup for the Kuala Lumpur leg of the series.

Why are you the only one from The MeatMen that participated in this project?
Because I’m the only one that cooks in The MeatMen. [laughs]

Initially, I was the one who started the whole shooting and cooking for MeatMen, and it started as a hobby. Since I came from a production background, I’m used to shooting and editing videos.

So at first, I did everything myself, but some of the other members began to join in as an excuse to hang out at my place to eat and drink – and also to run away from their wives! [laughs]

How do you feel working with TLC on such a big project?
It’s very different because in The MeatMen, I have a comfortable cooking studio with an air conditioner and everything else that I need, and I don’t have to worry about weather or lighting, so everything is very consistent, that’s why I can cook a lot of dishes in a day.

But outdoors is completely different because you have to deal with weather and other outdoor disturbances and elements. Nevertheless, the experience is very interesting because you get to travel to all kinds of places and see different types of people and environments, and you get to show the viewers a different side of the city.

For The MeatMen, usually you would shoot your own cooking process, but this time someone else will be shooting it for you. How do you find this different from your usual setup?
Of course, cooking in front of camera is very different from cooking off camera, especially when picking ingredients because you have to choose the ones that are presentable in front of a camera. You also have to know when you needed to pause so that the director can capture the ‘money shot’!

I shot other chefs before, so what I see is that the chefs are very good at cooking, but they are very cautious of the camera, so sometimes they might hesitate on their next step. Even though we keep telling them to cook naturally like how they would in their own kitchen, they would still get very nervous.

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The cameraman is getting the best angle of the dish.

What happens to all the leftovers from the cooking?
For The MeatMen, we try to finish them up, but for this show, it is a bit more challenging due to the safety of the food. Because the food has been exposed to the outdoors for a certain period of time, we feel that it is not very safe for consumption. So even when a passerby comes along, asking whether they can have a taste of the food, we would gently reject them because as much as I hate food wastage, I think it is a safer if they don’t have it.

Of all the dishes you’ve cooked, which one is your favourite?
Before production started, I actually flew down to some of the places just to eat. Because to me, it is very important for me to try out the food first before cooking it, rather than just blindly follow recipes from books, because I need to know how the food made by the locals really taste like. So, when we were in Manila, we tasted twenty items just for research! [laughs]

If you ask which one is my favourite, I guess it is the one from Manila, because Thai and Vietnamese food has travelled the world. Almost every country has a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, it’s just that the flavors from the original countries are more refined and of course, they tasted better.

But I find Filipino food to be the most interesting because I’ve never tried them before, and you don’t see a lot of Filipino restaurants back in Singapore. So after tasting real Filipino food, my perception on it has sort of changed slightly.

Throughout this show, has any part of you changed?
Yes, thanks to sunburn it is the colour of my skin! It is so obvious because my skin is originally fair, so it will take a while for the colour to go back to my original tone. [laughs]

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Look at the different skin tones!

In your opinion, how is the show different from every other outdoor cooking show?
The show will be slightly different from the others because there’s no host. Unlike every other cooking show where there’s a host telling you what to do, this show has no one doing so. Similar to the concept on The MeatMen, the reason we don’t show our faces or we don’t talk on the show is because we believe that the food is the star, and not us. That is my angle for the channel because I want the food to be the main focus of everything!