Profile: Cooking Ah Pa

April 24, 2018

By Aiman Azri

How did a Malaysian real estate guru become a social media cooking star, earning more than 10,000 Facebook fans within months? By preparing one recipe at a time, from fish stews to roast duck curries, with a positive spirit that makes cooking seem natural and easy. Meet the Cooking Ah Pa, who promotes home cooking through simple, self-produced tutorials shot in his own kitchen.

EDKL: Thanks for chatting with us today, Cooking Ah Pa. Please introduce yourself.

Ah Pa: My name is Lim Boon Ping. I have a cooking fan page called Cooking Ah Pa, so many people call me Ah Pa. For my full-time job, I'm actually a registered real estate agent.

EDKL: How did you get started with Cooking Ah Pa? 

Ah Pa: Starting this cooking fan page was incidental. I've always cooked a lot, but I only put up pictures on my personal Facebook page. After work, I usually get home after six, and I always try to prepare dinner for my family. I'm the main cook for my family of four - me, my wife, my mother-in-law, and my baby girl, who's about 15 months old. 

My wife's friend saw my pictures, and they asked me, about one year ago, "Why don't you start a cooking fan page to put all your cooking together?" It would be easier for them to follow my cooking, rather than following me on my personal Facebook page, where I have many property-related postings.

I started with only posting photos - no recipes, as I didn't have time to write recipes. I arranged the photos in different stages, different ingredients. Step one, take one picture, step two, take another picture.

Along the way, people started to ask questions. I managed to gather about 1,000 followers organically in that first year. Then the numbers stopped increasing. 

I thought to myself, how do I improve? How do I give people more information? I wanted to make videos, but I didn't know how.

At the end of November last year, my wife said, "You always watch your movies on your smartphone. Why don't I buy you one of those adjustable phone arms that you can clip onto the bedside, where you can hold the phone?" 

Then I thought, is it possible for this to be clipped onto my kitchen cabinet? Then I can shoot videos!

So I did my first video. It worked! Of course, it wasn't perfect. There were a few problems. It was shaky, because it's bendable. I only knew how to shoot vertically, but videos should be shot horizontally, landscape.

Some people commented on my sound quality. This was a phone microphone. Sometimes I'd walk to the wash basin, and I was still talking, but they couldn't hear me. Or sometimes I walked to the side to use the air fryer, and the sound quality would be very bad. 

I kept on thinking, how can I improve my video quality, so that my followers, my friends, will find it easier and more comfortable to watch my videos? 

I also didn't know how to edit videos. Cooking videos are not supposed to be too long. People will get bored. Even today, people complain my videos are too long. But I think that if you look at a few of my videos from the end of November until today, you should see some improvement.

EDKL: Your videos a lot shorter now! They started at around 20 minutes, and now are done in eight.

Ah Pa: Most people like my style because I tell them why (something should be done the way it is). So that becomes part of your knowledge.

Let's talk about deep-frying ingredients in medium-heat oil. The way I'd explain it is that the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius. The boiling point of oil is 280. So when I tell you medium heat, I'm talking about temperatures between 140 to 150. How do I ascertain this? One, you use a chopstick and put it inside the oil; you'll see a bit of bubbling. Two, there should be no smoke. Once you start seeing smoke, you must immediately add oil to cool it down; once you start seeing smoke, it's 170 and above - that's no longer medium heat.

That's how I explain it. People like it. The majority of my followers are between 45 to 65 years old. These people, they're not beginners at cooking, but everyday they're thanking me, "wow, now only I understand!" They really appreciate it.

EDKL: Did you start cooking through your family?

Ah Pa: I used to stand beside my mom while she was cooking, but she passed away when I was 13 years old. I've noticed one thing: Even though I've been cooking for years, if you ask me when my cooking skills really improved a lot, it's actually been these past four months, since I started to post videos. Because the best way to learn is to teach. When I find something that I'm not sure about, I have to find out more about it. I have to do my research!

Stuff like adding salt and sugar - people think putting any sugar in a dish will make it sweet. But sugar will actually intensify the penetration power of the salt, which is what they call the osmosis process. The gravy will actually go into the meat better. In order for this to happen, you need sugar. 

EDKL: Had you ever taught anyone how to cook before you started with your videos?

Ah Pa: Actually. even until today, I insist I don't teach cooking. Number one, I'm not a chef. I'm far from a chef! I'm not qualified to teach cooking, but I want to inspire people to do more home cooking and to give them cooking ideas. 

One of the biggest problems of home cooking is simply, "What do I cook tonight?" It's not easy. I try to give people variety. For the past 120 days, you can see from my YouTube channel, I have posted 120 videos.

At the end of the day, what I want to achieve is: Every time you want to think about what to cook tonight, come to Cooking Ah Pa's channel! 

I separate everything into playlists. Chicken, meat, vegetables. I don't care if you want to follow my methods or not. I'm just giving you an idea! This is what you can cook tonight. You can roughly follow this. You want to change it up? By all means, do a variation!

I want to make people feel that cooking is not difficult. People see my videos, then they say, "Wah, now only I know cooking is so simple!" They show me pictures, "Hey Ah Pa, this is following your recipe!"

Fantastic! That's exactly what I want. And I want to encourage family bonding. I lost my mom at a very young age. For me, a simple dinner at home, that's important for me. 

EDKL: Where do you get your ideas from?

Ah Pa: Sometimes, my followers just say, "Ah Pa, can you show how to cook this ah?" Then the next day, I'll make that particular dish. What happens if I've never cooked that before? Actually, for many of the dishes you see in my videos, it's the first time I'm cooking them. I don't even do practice runs. That's why you sometimes see me go, "Eh, I forgot this!" That's the real kitchen! How can a normal house kitchen be perfect like restaurants?

Recently, one of my followers from New Zealand asked me how to do roast pork, siew yoke. (I told her), I don't have to do for you, you go to YouTube and find out. You know what her reply was? "No, Ah Pa, I want to see yours." Her rationale: "I follow other people, but plenty of times, (the method is) not successful. When I do it their way, it comes out differently. But you, all your videos, it comes out very well." This is what many of my followers are telling me. My videos are very real. 

A kitchen environment can never be perfect. Temperature, fire, my electric stove - sometimes I complain my stove is not hot enough.

I have a lot of Malay followers too; even though I cook a lot of pork, I cook with a lot of rice wine, they can just omit it, or they can find a substitute. 

This is why, at this point of time, I still insist on speaking in English (in my videos), even though my knowledge of cooking is in Mandarin. To me, it's good for me to share my cooking to those who don't understand Mandarin. For an Indian family, let's say, (they're wondering) how a Chinese family cooks sweet and sour chicken. I think, this is where I can fill in the missing link. 

EDKL: Let's talk about the video-making process.

Ah Pa: I use a simple software where I join a few short clips together and add background music. Sometimes I will trim a little bit. That's it. I'm not good at manual editing, and I don't have time for subtitles - all these things take a long, long time, and I've got a full-time job, so cannot-lah.

I'm using an iPhone X to shoot. Of course, I use a tripod to enhance the stability. I've bought three tripods. The one I'm now using, I bought it for over 400 ringgit, but it's a very firm one. Then, there's external sound (to think about), and many other small things.

EDKL: You're quite a meticulous person. Does that help you create your videos?

Ah Pa: Well, I teach law relating to estate agency to working adults. My biggest class is 1,000 people. But that's law, which is what I'm familiar with, and that's my practice.

When it comes to cooking though, all my understanding is in Mandarin. You can see that I talk very slowly in my videos. There are two reasons. First, I'm too lazy to do subtitles, which will easily take a few hours. Secondly, my knowledge in cooking is in Mandarin. As I'm cooking, I actually have to translate (in my head) at the same time.

EDKL: How would you describe your cooking style?

Ah Pa: I would call my cooking style Asian. Mainly Chinese, but I would be able to tell you how, say, Koreans cook. For instance, bulgogi pork. For that one, I specifically told people, this is the Korean way of cooking. If I cook curry, I'll tell people, this is the Indian style. Whether you want to follow, that's up to you. But I'm telling you the conventional way of how to cook that dish, so you have a better understanding.

Asian food is my favourite cuisine. You'll very seldom see me cooking Western, out of preference. I can cook Chinese food, Cantonese food, Szechuan food, Thai food, Vietnamese food, Korean food, Indonesian food, Indian food. Sometimes my wife says I cook curry like an Indian. Good-lah!

EDKL: Is there any food that you haven't gotten around to cooking yet? 

Ah Pa: Roast pork. The reason is, I don't have a very hot oven. If you use a normal air fryer, chances are it will not come out perfect. You will need 220 degrees, but my air fryer only goes to 205. I have a built-in oven, but that's not in good condition. But if you ask me, I can get roast pork anywhere, so it doesn't really bother me.

You can see the majority of my cooking is very simple. Sometimes I show people something a bit more complicated, like my Chinese New Year special edition. That dish will take you three hours. I'm not going to show that kind of dish very often, because you won't cook that very often.

EDKL: Take us through the journey of how you make one of your videos. After you get home from work ...

Ah Pa: Say I reach home at about six o'clock. I get changed, go to the kitchen and start preparing the dishes. If I already have an idea, it's easier. Sometimes I don't, and I see what's left in the fridge. I then see how I can clear my fridge. "Oh, I still have chicken, okay! Oh yesterday I cooked fish already, so today no fish." That kind of thing.

I'll start preparing my ingredients in about half an hour and start cooking in another half an hour. So within an hour.

EDKL: Then you'll edit later, late at night?

Ah Pa: No, as I'm having dinner, I'm already editing! I use this software, VideoShow. It's very simple, very user-friendly, and for the iPhone, it costs 30 ringgit.

While I'm having dinner, I'll upload to Facebook, YouTube, and a one-minute version to Instagram. To me, these three are basic.

EDKL: Tell us about your logo. That's a recent development right?

Ah Pa: Yes, very recent! I saw a lot of YouTubers have that. I think it's for branding. And actually, many people end up loving my logo!

EDKL: It's very cute!

Ah Pa: They say, eh, very similar to the real person! The ones that know me. 

My centre of attraction is Facebook. The first year, when I did Facebook without video, I had only 1,000 followers. But today, I have 11,000. That's 10,000 more followers since November. All organic, I never spent a single cent (on advertising).

Now, I want to boost my YouTube, I want to reach the new minimum monetisation threshold. They recently changed it to 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of viewing. So I'm trying to divert my traffic to YouTube, which after four months has 700-plus followers. I think I'm going to hit 1,000 soon, but the viewing time is very challenging. You need to hit 240,000 minutes; now I only have 150,000 minutes. I think I can get there, but it takes time.

Also, my main target market is 45 to 65 years old. Many of them are not so good at YouTube. Even my own auntie told me, "I want to watch your videos everyday, I wanted to subscribe, but I don't know how. They told me to open a Gmail account but I'm scared to."

Follow Cooking Ah Pa on his quest to promote home cooking:

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