Foodie Confidential

Actor was once a roti prata man

Vasantham artist Jay Nesh enjoyng noodles at Newton Hawker Centre.
Vasantham artist Jay Nesh enjoyng noodles at Newton Hawker Centre. ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Vasantham artist Jay Nesh spent two years flipping prata at his father's now-defunct roti prata stall in a coffee shop in Keppel Road.

This happened 12 years ago, when the cook quit abruptly and he was roped in to make prata by his father, K. Isuran, 62, a Tamil singer.

Jay Nesh, 38, whose real name is Jaya Ganesh Isuran, says: "The toughest part was waking up at 4am. I slept on the coffeeshop table at 5am before working for up to seven hours. It was tedious mixing the dough and cooking about 400 pieces of prata daily."

He also had to deal with attention from female customers. He was a part-time TV host then. "I felt uncomfortable with the aunties. There was a woman who ordered food daily for a few weeks, but just observed me without eating."

Since then, the actor-radio DJ has played the lead in Tamil drama Vettai and school series Vetri.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

    A plate of nasi goreng istimewa (Indonesian-style fried rice).

He stars in madcap family sitcom Kudumbam United (airs Monday to Thursday on Vasantham at 10pm) and will co-host the festive countdown show Amarkala Deepavali next Monday at 10pm.

Having been in show business for 17 years, he stresses the need to "look younger to compete with new and fitter actors".

From "eating all sorts of food", he has reduced his intake of pork and rice and learnt to cook steamed salmon and chicken breast.

The 1.68m-tall artist, who is married to a 33-year-old civil servant, has maintained his weight at around 67kg and "feels fresher and lighter". The couple have no children.

But he finds it hard to resist his mother's dishes, such as sambal prawns and chicken curry with rice. He says with a chuckle: "If I do not eat it during dinner, I will keep thinking about it. I will then wake up in the middle of the night, take it out from the fridge and eat it."

Where is your favourite place for prata?

I will always order plaster prata from my neighbourhood prata shop in Bishan Street 11. I like that the egg is fried on the outside and runny when I bite into it.

Where do you go to eat your favourite Singapore food?

I like steamed chicken rice from a stall in Bishan Street 11. I also like mutton steak from Ismail Stall at Newton Circus Food Centre as it is served with a very spicy sauce.

Which is your favourite hawker hangout?

Newton Circus Food Centre. I've been frequenting it for the past three years because of Mr Waheed, who runs Syed Ishak Teh Tarik Drinks Stall. He helps my family order food from various stalls and delivers the food to us.

Where are your favourite places for Indian food?

I like the chicken and prawn masala, fish cutlets, fish curry and rasam (spicy tamarind soup) at Banana Leaf Apolo in Race Course Road. For Indian vegetarian food, I go to Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant in Upper Dickson Road for the rojak, mee goreng and appam jala (net-like pancakes).

What other cuisines do you like?

I like Western food from Midsummer Nite Breeze Cafe in Pasir Ris Park. Besides its dishes, such as prawn aglio olio, I also like its cosy ambience. I also go to Molly Malone's Irish Pub with my wife for the lamb stew.

How do you celebrate Deepavali?

My family usually has a feast a week after Deepavali. We have chicken or mutton briyani and my mum would cook her speciality, braised spicy kicap chicken with dried chilli. I do not have much of a sweet tooth and would only take nei urundai (an Indian confectionery) and muruku.

What is one of your dining quirks?

Whenever I check into a hotel in South-east Asia, I always order nasi goreng istimewa (Indonesian-style fried rice with eggs, chicken and satay) from the room service menu. It is an inexplicable craving.

Any strange fan encounters over buying food?

The danger of dining at hawker centres is encountering fans who are drinking alcohol and start nitpicking your TV performance. I usually go over to say hi, despite being scared. Once, I was asked to rap on the spot but, thankfully, someone stepped in and told them to leave me alone. It was a close shave.

Are you an adventurous diner?

I used to try all sorts of meats such as python in India, which was tasty but tough; and rabbit, which was very soft. My mum was upset with me as we used to have a pet rabbit.

What's always in your fridge?

Tabasco sauce as I like my food to be spicy and savoury, or else I cannot digest it, as well as eggs, chilli padi and fruits.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be?

American singer Gwen Stefani. I have been a fan of hers since her No Doubt days. I admire people like her who seem to defy time and don't look their age. She's 46 and still looks awesome.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Actor was once a roti prata man'. Print Edition | Subscribe