Interview to Ching He Huang
The Lunar New Year is celebrated in many countries around the world. In Chinese culture, it is also called The Spring Festival and is perhaps the most important festival. In 2023 we will be welcoming in the year of the Rabbit, which is a symbol of hope, peace and prosperity.
1. In addition to the Lunar New Year, do you also celebrate New Year’s Eve?
Yes, of course! When it comes to January, the more celebrations, the better, especially as I live in the UK, and it’s a great way to break up the winter blues.
2. Your biggest influence in cooking was your Grandma. Explain the impact she has on your life.
She was a fantastic woman, the matriarch of our family, she wielded her wok and spatula like a wok warrior goddess, and that’s my memory of her, commanding our family kitchen (our communal family ‘siheyuan’ Chinese style courtyard family home was the centre of 11 of our extended family and their families). My Grandmother was the eldest and so she was often in charge of our family gatherings in the courtyard, all feasting together; great aunts would bring what they cooked and everyone shared their food – it was like a giant potluck!
3. You were born in Taiwan, but then as a family, you moved to South Africa. Why was this? Then on to London when you were six; how did you adapt to new surroundings three times within a short space of time?
My father decided to start an export business selling bicycles to South Africa, which was the primary mode of transport for a lot of people in the 80’s. My father was quite entrepreneurial, and by chance, he had met a South African businessman and they decided to partner together. We lived there until I was about 11. Then we uprooted again, this time to London, because Nelson Mandela was about to be freed, and the collapse of apartheid meant a lot of instability in South Africa.
5. Tell me what has been your favourite cooking experiences: by person, by place and would love to cook for?
I loved cooking for my friend Phil Rosenthal, host of ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ on Netflix, for one of my TV cooking shows. He is super fun. I loved cooking in this old Ming dynasty village called ‘Chuan Di Xia’ outside of Beijing with a fiery northern lady called Mrs Han for my BBC cooking Show ‘Exploring China’. I would love to cook for my Grandmother again…and ask her if my cooking has improved.
6. What essentials should every cook/chef have in their Asian kitchen?
You must have a good wok, cleaver and a chopping board. And your store cupboard must be well stocked with the essentials like Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry, Light and Dark soy sauce, Toasted sesame oil, Chilli oil and Chinese five spice powder.
7. The ultimate fast food Asian recipes you have honed and why?
Crab Ants Climbing Trees, Lionhead meatballs, Mapo Tofu, Tiger Bites Pig, Sichuan Wontons, Cantonese roast duck, Char Siu Pork…I love the classics, especially Chinese cuisine, and of course, my Grandmother’s Bamboo Zong Zi dumplings. I can cook these with my eyes closed. It wasn’t always the case. What do they say when someone dedicates over 10,000 hours…?
8. What was your first Mastered Recipe?
Gosh, I think fried rice…my first fried rice was so soggy at age 13.
9. You are currently jet-setting everywhere; where is home, where is your getaway from it all and what is your favourite holiday destination?
My home is Surrey, UK; it’s a luxury to travel but anywhere where I can swim in the ocean is one of my greatest pleasures. I do love the sea, the sand between my toes and watching sunsets over the water.
10. You decided to become vegetarian; what are your reasons for this? Has this had an impact on your cooking styles/recipes?
I was plant-based for most of the time of writing Asian Green, and at this moment, I am more than 85-90% plant-based, but because of my career, I feel I do have a duty to also look out for those who aren’t but are on their own journey, so I try and be as inclusive as possible. My husband cured his asthma and allergies by going plant-based, so some people can really thrive on a whole-food plant-based diet. You must listen to your body and do what’s right for you. Only you will get the answers when you try and test.
11. So what’s your latest cookbook, and how do you gain inspiration for this your ninth cookbook? The accolade of having nine books to your name is seriously impressive, but then for them to all become best-sellers must be an incredible experience.
There are actually ten cookbooks now…some are more best-selling than others. Thank you for your kind comments. I really try to give back to my fans who have supported me over the years; the dishes are for them and their families. I do try and make sure the recipes are as best they can be for maximum enjoyment with minimum fuss.
12. So, what’s in the cooking pot for 2023?
Lots of cooking adventures, and another book. I want to travel more and give back to the hospitality industry too, which is why I’m also Chairwoman of Asia territories for the Young Chef Young Waiter Competition.
13. Who is your ideal travel partner, and why?
May sound boring to say, but my husband! He’s more patient than I am and can solve problems in an instant, plus he’s a great company if there are travel delays etc. He’s also a foodie (albeit plant based these days), but that doesn’t stop us from exploring the best haunts a destination has to offer.
14. In 2020, you were honoured by the Queen with an MBE for services to the Culinary Arts. Was it our late Queen who knighted you?
I wish it were; it was Princess Anne. When I stepped up to her and looked up, I saw a spitting image of the Queen. It was the best day, and so honoured to be awarded.
15. How is life in Surrey, what made you and Jamie choose to live there?
I didn’t know much about Surrey until we moved there. Our decision was solely to be closer to Jamie’s family. My family are all in Asia, so it was important for us.
16. You are a strong advocate of traditional Chinese medicine; how has this shaped your life and beliefs about modern medicine?
The body is super intelligent and has technology that is susceptible to viruses, but if you feed it with the proper nutrients, you can prevent flare-ups. I respect Chinese medicine because it treats the body as a whole, whereas we tend to just focus on the singular. An East-West approach works, but given the right conditions, the body has a fantastic ability to heal itself if you help it along.
For more information about Ching, please visit www.chinghehuang.com