Moments of Memory with BBC Celebrity Chef Ching He Huang
If you’ve ever watched Ching on television, you’ll know how passionate she is about food. She swells with this enviably permanent positivity; and her relaxed and effortless movements in the kitchen couldn’t better compliment her sweet, soothing voice like bird-song. I’m currently watching Ching on BBC Two, cooking up a feast of her late Grandmother’s favourite recipes. There’s stringed bundles of pork wrapped in bamboo and drunken prawns with rice wine; a meal, cooked personally for her family.
Ching plates up the food, welcomes her family inside to be seated at the table and they begin to eat. A moment of silence fills the table - but is beautifully broken as Ching’s grandfather slowly turns towards her, sat attentively by his side.
‘It tastes like your grandmother’s’, her Grandfather comments, his eyes welling up. A truly memorable moment connecting both past and present through her love of food.
Ching was born in Taiwan and moved to South Africa with her family as a child. She now resides in London with her husband Jamie and splits her time between home and other parts of the world where she continues to teach others how to incorporate Chinese cooking into their kitchen. Her holistic yet simple approach to cooking originated from its cause, which Ching explains, was to feed her father and brother when her Mother was working. During this time she explains, food was more of a chore than anything else. Several years later though, Ching welcomed a newfound sense of freedom when she enrolled at Queen Mary’s University in London.
University students today are some of the biggest food customers in the capital and love to share their dining experiences online on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Yet, Ching’s relationship with food during her University years in London seemed a lifetime away from the gastronomic, fast-paced life she leads today. When quizzing her on some of her pastimes, Ching described how she ‘didn’t have a lot of money [during University], so most of my food was cooked in student halls.’ Uni-living presented more jacket potatoes and sandwiches from an affordable sandwich chain (back then named ‘Benjys’) which closed down on Soho's Beak Street in 2007. Whilst studying towards her four-year degree in Economics, Ching tells me she still loved food, but hadn’t set her sights on the Food and TV world just yet. Instead a more sensible, and as we know too well, parent-friendly career in Business was on her horizons.
Ching’s passion and knowledge of making quick and nutritious recipes inspired her to combine her skills in Business and love of food to start her own food business: ‘I wanted to change people’s eating habits…’ Ching confesses. She was also frustrated by the extortionate prices of noodles in London and so decided to start several food businesses, one named ‘Fuge Ltd’ where she creates healthy, nutritious Chinese food items for shops.
Since her first entrepreneurial endeavours, Ching has grown her food businesses and produced six award-winning cookbooks. Her beautifully English accent, formidable knowledge of Asian cooking and her affiliation with the U.K, has naturally transformed Ching into the face of Chinese cooking internationally - and especially so here in the U.K where there is a lack of support for young chefs wanting to master the skills of her trade. In an exclusive interview with Ching, I speak to her about her thoughts on London’s food scene, her favourite hotels and her life as a celebrity TV chef.
What are your favourite things to eat at home?
It really depends on what I’m feeling. My husband is vegan for health reasons and so I try to cook lighter, more nutritious foods. I occasionally eat meat and fish and I really love simple foods, broths, ramens, lots of veggies, (especially Asian veggies) and chilli sauces. ...But really, noodles is my thing. A good noodle dish with ginger, mushroom, a delicious broth, laden with veggies, with either meat or fish makes for quick eating and can always be used for leftovers!
Favourite restaurants for special occasions in London?
When I'm with my family and close friends, we like to go to places like Pizza Express, maybe some of the amazing fish places in Borough Market, Cake Shops in Soho or Dim Sum nights in Chinatown. My family and friends are not in the media, and so we prefer to visit inexpensive local restaurants that are more dictated by comfort; nothing fancy and very down-to-earth.
Most memorable hotel stay so far in the world?
I’m lucky enough to travel for my job and visit some amazing hotels around the world. The first time I went to the U.S for work is a very special memory for me. I loved the Mandarin Oriental in New York in the Columbus Circle – it was so beautiful and I bumped into Colin Farrell! Also the Intercontinental in Hong Kong, the Shangri-La and the Four Seasons in Langkawi, Malaysia.
It’s no doubt that London’s food scene is currently booming - but what do you think London could do to up their foodie game even more?
I think we could do with more authentic Asian cooking in London. We really need more opportunities for young foodie entrepreneurs to help support them in this trade. Unfortunately it seems at the moment that it’s too expensive to do so and this support is mostly dominated by the big players. Chefs don’t have the financial support they need and it would be great to see some concession names emerge from the industry. I’d also love to see more diverse Chinese food - the Chinese food space in London is not quite there yet. Our understanding of the cuisine varies greatly around the country and it would be amazing if it could be more accessible to people.
What have been the most popular dishes from your cookbook ‘Chinese Food Made Easy?'
People are looking for fast, healthy and uncomplicated food. A lot of people are used to simply following a recipe, but some chefs don’t always have a template. It’s all about working on how you feel and being intuitive with cooking. I think my most popular dishes are my chicken chow mein, chicken fried rice and also my skewered lamb. These are very simple dishes and they have so much flavour! I think people see Chinese food in such a diverse way and these recipes show that it’s not just stir-fry; it’s also braising and grilling and lots more.
What was it like putting together your first show, ‘Ching’s Kitchen’ for UKTV Food? And what did it feel like the first time it aired?
Well this was back in 2006…. and it was just crazy! When I was commissioned, I thought ‘what did this mean?!’ My parents wanted me to focus on Business and suddenly, I was expected to be on set at 6pm and it was mad! I had to do 6 recipes a day, (twice) and on top of that had to do my own hair and makeup. It was very stressful and I was almost put-off! But you know you learn from these things: it was fun but painful. Would I do it all over again? Yes - I was very lucky to do something I enjoy. The main thing is just to do it. If you love it, don’t think too much about it.
What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I think one of them was definitely receiving the Emmy nomination. I received the nomination but it was only after sitting next to Ina Garten and meeting Bobby Flay at the ceremony did I think I would love to win! It was a "pinch me moment" and an honour to be nominated next to industry culinary greats who are my heroes in US.
Ching is currently filming two shows in the U.S including guest appearances and has a new book launching next year with a title yet to be announced. You can find out what she's up to on her website and follow her on Twitter here.