Ching He Huang is probably the best known Chinese TV chef in the world. Massively popular in Britain where she lives in London with her husband, actor Jamie Cho, she’s credited for integrating Chinese dishes into British households. She authored a number of best-selling cookbooks and her winning combination of good looks and effervescent personality has made her a natural for television. She appears in the US on the Cooking Channel, hosting the shows, Chinese Food Made Easy and Easy Chinese: San Francisco. Her latest cookbook is Eat Clean: Wok Yourself To Health which celebrates all natural, non-processed, nutrient dense Chinese cooking featuring ingredients not often showcased in her previous books and TV shows — coconut oil, seaweed, pomegranate, wheat free tamari, turmeric, raw nuts, miso paste and more. Says Ching, “To eat healthy, you have to eat clean. Clean foods are unprocessed, free from artificial chemicals, fertilizers, additives, non-GMO, organic. Nothing that’s been tampered with. Pure from mother nature.” The book is a direct result of her struggles with food allergies which tied into her self-image on camera and the discovery that in order to overcome them she had to reinvent her own diet and lifestyle.
JEFF VASISHTA: You’re probably the most well known Chinese food chef in the world at the moment. What do you attribute your success to? Great food, great marketing or both?
CHING HE HUANG: That’s very generous of you to say. I like to think it’s because I work really hard plus the food is good, of course!
JV: Whenever I’m back home in London, I can’t help but notice how different Chinese food is in Chinatown compared Chinatown in the New York. It smells and tastes quite different. I know there are many different types of Chinese food. Is it purely a regional thing?
CHH: The food is never quite the same due to the ingredients available and also the skills that are available. So the food in China is always slightly different to what you find in Chinatowns around the world. The very best reflection of the cuisine found in Chinatowns around the world coincides with the concentration of the most highly skilled Chinese chefs. We are lucky in London, as well as in New York, you have Flushing, which has some incredible chefs and some of the most authentic food found outside of China.
JV: You’ve had quite the international upbringing, being born in Taiwan and then living in S. Africa and London. How has that influenced what you do? How do you relate to different people, the food you make, etc?
CHH: I think living in different countries as a young child taught me how to adapt to new environments. It has influenced my outlook on life, there may be cultural differences living from one country to the next, but really we are all human and share the same concerns as any living being. The interactions and experiences shared through food has made me more appreciative of others and their values, and allowed me to develop my own.
JV: Do you have to modify what you do in Britain for the American market?
CHH: I have had to adapt some recipes but ultimately as a cook it has always been about making dishes that are delicious no matter the country or place. I create recipes on the basis that I enjoy them and hope others will too.
JV: In your latest book, Eat Clean, you talk about your food allergies and how you have had to modify your diet. When did you first become aware of them?
CHH: My food allergies started in 2011, I suffered from allergies specifically, my skin would turn blotchy after eating shellfish or peanuts, however, later this would include foods from wines to pizza dough…
JV: You seem quite vocal in your advocacy of vegan food, but many of your dishes from past shows and books are meat dishes. How do you marry the two, both personally and professionally? Are you completely vegan now?
CHH: I’m no saint. We are not vegan, as it is hard to give up eggs, but we do buy organic. Yes, my books have been mainly meat dishes but I am doing a U-turn so 90% of what I eat is mainly vegetables and 10% is made up of meat and fish. We seem to have lost the balance. People used to consume less meat and now it’s virtually every day. The overconsumption is becoming unsustainable with food producers taking shortcuts. The problem is that much of our food has been altered (pesticides, GM, chemicals, hormones). I think many are concerned about this but feel helpless on a day to day basis as we all have to eat but we are not in control of the how food is produced. If we start growing food ourselves and being responsible in our choices, might there be hope for real long-term change?
JV: Are Chinese food critics harder on you than western ones because you’re cooking native dishes?
CHH: Some are; some aren’t. Aren’t all critics harsh? Isn’t that the nature of their job? In truth, we are all critics one way or another. My mother is my harshest critic!
JV: Is there a dish that you just can’t seem to master?
CHH: Yes, my grandmother’s Zong-Zi-sticky bamboo rice dumplings. No matter how hard I try, it just doesn’t taste like grandma’s!