Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

Behind every strong and determined woman is another woman: her mother. When two women were thrown into the headlines recently, their most striking remarks were to attribute their strength of character and resilience to their mothers. Citing their upbringing, they said that they were indebted to their mothers for moulding their characters and for supporting them in their chosen fields. Without the guiding hand of their mothers, these women would not have been able to achieve their goals.

The backgrounds of these two women could not have been more different. Although both created news sensations, one lives in Malaysia, whilst the other is in England.

Young, intelligent and passionate about what they do, these two should be an inspiration to all Malaysian women. Their chosen fields couldn’t be more different; one has decided to enter politics, the other has excelled as a cook.

On 16 May, 32-year-old Catherine Chin Wan Ping Coombes, who was originally from Ipoh, became the tenth winner of the UK MasterChef Championship 2014. She beat off her rivals Luke Owen and Jack Lucas after a tense, eight-week cooking competition.

The dishes which convinced the judges to award her the title were all inspired by her Malaysian upbringing. Her starter was one of her favourites. It is her version of wonton dumpling soup, which is based on her mother’s pork and liver soup. She transformed the humble nasi lemak into an upmarket version with quail’s eggs and edible flowers, whilst her dessert was a coconut and vanilla pannacotta with pineapple and mango trimmings.

Catherine, a housewife and mother of an 18-month-old daughter, lives in Bath with her husband Andrew, a website designer, whom she met when he was travelling in Malaysia on his gap-year.

More remarkable is that as a child, Catherine had been banned from the kitchen by her mother, but only started to learn to cook, when she came to England, in her 20s, to study at university. Being homesick for her mother’s cooking meant that she was forced to learn to cook so she could enjoy the dishes, just the way her mother had prepared them.

She said, “My mum is a fantastic cook but it was only when I came to England to go to university that I started to cook for myself. I craved my mum’s food and the only way I could have it was to make it myself. Her way of showing her children how much she loved us was to cook amazing food.”

Catherine would contact her mother, 65-year-old Siew Thoe Lau, using Skype, to improve her cooking skills, but she also faced challenges; “My mum doesn’t write down recipes, so she would just say to me these are the ingredients but she would never tell me the proper amounts so I would have to work it out for myself.”

On winning the UK MasterChef, Catherine compared the emotion of winning, to the time she gave birth to her daughter and said that it was “something you don’t get to experience a lot; pure joy, pure bliss, that feels incredible.”

She attributes her success and her victory to her mother and said, “My mother will be really proud, I’m sure,” and jokingly added, “She still won’t let me in her kitchen.”

The other woman whose mother had a strong influence on her future aspirations is Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud who, at the time of writing, is the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Teluk Intan candidate for the upcoming by-election.

A lawyer by profession, the 26-year-old Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) graduate, said that her candidacy would help highlight the concerns of the youth in society, give women a stronger voice and also, help present a multi-racial presence in politics.

As she grew up, Dyana observed her mother’s political involvement, her charitable work, and the dedication and loyalty she had to her party. She said that all of these helped to inspire her to be involved in politics and to serve the public.

Although Dyana is a member of the DAP, her mother, 59-year-old Yammy Samat, is an Umno-Baru member. She described her mother’s involvement in Umno-Baru and her charitable work, as important precursors in shaping her own career. Yammy joined a political party, when she was 18 years old and was the Ipoh division secretary between 1976 and 1980, of the old Umno.

Dyana has brushed aside a barrage of criticism and attempts at character assassination, and said that she has learnt much from her mother about being strong in the face of adversity.

She said, “I owe who I am today to my family and to my mother, to hard work and to the personal decisions which I have made along my life.”

Two women. Two career paths. One inspiration: their mother!