The Malaysian feast hidden in a Santa Monica oasis

Neeza Adenan wants to introduce you to authentic, Malaysian specialties

Neeza Adenan was only 3 years old when her grandmother taught her how to make rice. To say she knows how to cook is an understatement. She was raised in the kitchen learning from the women in her big, Malaysian family. Neeza eventually left Malaysia and made her way to Amsterdam where her culinary journey took off. In 2010, she began cooking pop-up dinners at a friend’s restaurant, serving up to 90 people each night. Now, Neeza lives in Santa Monica. She turned her backyard into a mini oasis for guests to enjoy a taste of Malaysian flare. Join her at one of her upcoming Eatwith events and read more about her below.

How did you get into cooking and why is it important to you?

I’m from a very big Malaysian family. My father is the eldest of 11 and mother has 8 other siblings. All of the women on both sides of my family are cooks — excellent cooks. Cooking is in my blood. I’ve been in the kitchen for as long I can remember. My grandmother taught me how to cook rice at the age of 3. She would even test me on how to cook it in the years following. At family gatherings, it was always a tradition for all the women to cook together. Often times we were lead by one of my grandmas. At home, it was mandatory for my sister and I to be in the kitchen every time my mother cooked. My sister ended up hating cooking because of it but I took it on feverishly. In my family, cooking has always been about bringing people together.It’s important to me because it highlights what’s important in life — things like love and joy.

Who is your foodie inspiration and why?

My goodness where do I start? There are so many and my list keeps growing with all the new talents these days. My current favorites are:

1. My grandmothers — Their cooking is just beyond excellent. Fun fact: They managed to cook for hundreds! They would cook for all of my aunts’ and uncles’ weddings. That’s 100–300 people at a time, using their traditional charcoal and wood stoves. That’s dedication.

2. Francis Mallman — He’s the closest thing that would compare to my grandmothers.

3. Jeong Kwan — She reminds me of one of my grandmothers. How she treats her ingredients is magical.

4. Yotam Ottollenghi — Everything he touches turn into food magic.

5. Jamie Oliver — I love him for his ongoing quest to educate Britain and the world about the importance of using healthy ingredients and how simple and easy it can be. Cooking should be about educating people about the value of making time to know your produce and not be afraid of the process. Jamie’s doing an amazing job at it.

6. Jordan Kahn — my current LA favorite. He’s revolutionizing food and produce in ways that are just mind blowing.

What is your favorite cuisine and why?

Malaysian is my favorite. It’s not because I’m Malaysian but because of of how diverse Malaysian cuisine is. Malaysia is made up of 3 main cultures: Malay, Indian and Chinese. But, there’s influences from the Middle East, Portugal, Spain, Japan, Holland and Britain. We literally have the best variety of food in Malaysia because of this.

What is your favorite dish to eat or make?

My favorite dish is banana leaf rice, which is what I’m currently offering at my Eatwith dinners. It comes from South India and has been been adopted and customized by Malaysians. It’s now a staple dish in the nation. Banana leaf rice is rice with variety of curries, vegetables and protein. It’s served on a banana leaf. Traditionally, you eat it with your hands.

What are you most excited about when hosting an EatWith experience?

What I’m most excited about in hosting an Eatwith experience is the new people I’ll get to meet and introduce my food to. At my last event, there was a Norwegian family travelling from Norway, a Grammy-award winning music produce, a Vogue film editor and a female NASA aerospace engineer. They were all eating my food from Malaysia. It was bliss! We all learned so much from each other. The friendships formed over that dinner will last a lifetime for me.

What can guests expect from your event?

Guest can expect lots of beautiful food cooked with heart, good ambiance, good music, a cozy environment filled with laughter.

What makes your event unique from other food options in your town?

Currently, I’m only cooking Malaysian specialties because there aren’t many good Malaysian restaurants in West L.A. I’m trying to educate people on what true Malaysian food is. At my event, the flavors and experience is as authentic as it gets. I would love to prepare other types of cuisines at some point, but right now, there’s a big gap in the market for good Malaysian food.

What’s your go to dinner party music playlist?

I create a new playlist every month. For August, I have a playlist that’s a tad more summery. But sometimes I’ll change and mix it up once the guests arrive to fit the group’s mood.

If you could host a special guest (dead or alive) who would you invite to your table?

I’d invite all of my chef inspirations I mentioned above, as well as Mick Jagger and Marvin Gaye.

What feeling do you want to leave people with after they’ve tasted your cooking?

That warm fuzzy feeling you get after having a meal cooked by a family member you love. You know, one that leaves you full, in a sleepy, joyous daze.

Ready to Eatwith Neeza? Check out her upcoming Los Angeles events here.


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