Chinese cuisine has been and will always be right at the top of Diana Ser’s list.
The 43-year-old host-presenter, who has three kids aged nine, seven and four with actor-turned-bank-official James Lye, told The New Paper over lunch at Cantonese restaurant Jiang-Nan Chun at Four Seasons Hotel: “As a family, we eat Chinese food more than 70 per cent of the time.
“It’s what my mum used to cook for me and what I cook for my children.”
Her affection for Cantonese fare dates back to her early days as a TV host with the Television Corporation of Singapore (now Mediacorp).
“A lot of our producers were from Hong Kong and sometimes, they’d take us out to really excellent Chinese restaurants,” she said.
Ser helms Chinese-learning portal Crazy About Chinese and was recently appointed by Times Bookstores as its first brand advocate, as she shares its vision of nurturing kids through play and teaching the importance of bilingualism.
Related: Diana Ser’s top tips for teaching kids Chinese
This is your first time dining at Jiang-Nan Chun… So what do you think of the dishes?
Yes, the soft shell prawns are super-duper crispy and taste cheesy, kind of like (the snack) Cheezels. The almond slices on it are delicious – I’m going to pick them out one by one and eat them all.
The Wagyu beef oxtail is yummy too. It’s an extremely rich dish. For good measure, it’s lying on a bed of green vegetables, so that makes me feel better. (Laughs)
Are you the type of tiger mum who is very strict about her kids’ diet?
I wish I could be more tiger-ish (over) what they eat. Well, I just make sure they have their vegetables and fibre. They need that to grow. Like the Chinese saying “san cai yi tang” (three dishes and one soup), it’s good to have at least one vegetable dish per meal.
Do you have a sweet tooth?
Absolutely. If you want to bribe me, just give me very good dessert and very good espresso. Two of my favourite sweets are salted egg yolk custard bun and almond paste. The lovely dessert I just had, crispy puff pastry with almond cream, is a combination of the two.
You and Lye have been married for 12 years. Do you still go on date nights?
Yes, we have date lunches, date breakfasts, date dinners, using whatever couple time we can steal. Even if it’s just an hour, it’s time I treasure.
The honest truth is, on our dates, we still end up talking about our children and sharing videos of them. (Laughs) Nevertheless, it’s a great way for us to reconnect without the kids scampering around.
Do you both get recognised when you’re dining outside?
I find it amazing that despite having (been out of) showbiz for 16 years, James still gets recognised a lot. Just the other day, we were in a crowded place and a woman was gesturing and whispering furiously to her husband, “James Lye! James Lye! You saw or not?”
I was standing next to her and inside my head, I went, “Me, me, I’m here”. But no, she just kept going on about James (laughs).
Do you love cooking?
For all the interviews I’ve done in my years as a presenter and broadcast journalist, I have to say that my greatest accomplishment in life was hearing my kids say, “Mummy, did you cook this? It’s delicious!”
To me, food isn’t just about sustenance or nutrition, it’s about tradition, memories and cultures. That was the main reason why I decided not to work full-time after having kids. I want to cook for my children.
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.
(Photo: Jonathan Choo/SPH)