Sunday, 28 July 2013

Respected, revered and admired - Ching-He Huang

Food is a truly international language and a wonderful way of introducing the flavours, textures and aromas of another country or culture into the home. Those bold enough to explore the global gastronomic landscape are rewarded with such a richly diverse culinary experience and perhaps even more importantly enjoy an enhanced sense of the intrigue and excitement we all feel when trying something new or exotic. We are lucky to live in a time where not only are the ingredients available so cosmopolitan, but where specialist cooks and expert writers are willing and able to share both their own experiences and recipes. As you probably all know by now I love learning about new ways of cooking from such adepts, and one of my favourites is Ching-He Huang.

Ching-He Huang is a self-taught champion of Chinese cookery. A respected cook, author and presenter, not to mention an entrepreneur with a degree in economics, she has made Chinese cuisine accessible to home cooks the world over through her books and television shows. She is passionate, knowledgeable and displays not only a complete understanding of Chinese food and cookery, but how to prepare delicious dishes healthily and easily. For anyone venturing into the realm of Chinese cuisine for the first time she is absolutely the best place to start, so it was with pleasure that I was able to steal a few minutes of her time recently to ask her a few questions…

You have an infectious passion for food. Where does your love for food and cooking come from?

The desire to please & share great food with everyone.

What inspires you?

Cooking is a humble profession. There is so much to learn and explore everyday and that's why I love working with food. The desire to make the perfect recipe comes from the same place as the desire to be a better person.

How does Chinese cuisine differ between regions and what are some of you favourite dishes?

Chinese regional cuisine differs from regions to regions based on climate and the people that are indigenous to those regions. The damp humid climate of the West, gives rise to spicy hot food from Sichuan. The people in the coastal regions of Fujian, Guangzhou are blessed with an abundance of produce from the sea and the climate favours rice farming so lighter seafood and rice dishes are pre-dominantly from these regions. The North of China is cold and dry and hardier plants such as wheat and cabbages were mainly grown so therefore dumplings, noodles and pickled cabbages feature on the menu and dishes tend to be much more oily because of the cold. Of course produce is transported all over China now but the traditions/use of spices or cooking styles can still be seen and thats because most Chinese people especially the older generation still eat seasonally and with health in mind. Although with the recent rise in fast food restaurants, the Chinese people are battling obesity just like the West, and this is sad to see.

What is the most unusual thing you’ve eaten and did you enjoy it?

Squid Sperm Sacs in Hong Kong.... They tasted funky and not very enjoyable... As well as Water cockroaches which had an odd metal taste and smell... Both were not my cup of tea... 

What one Chinese dish should everyone learn to cook at home?

Stir fried mixed vegetables - because it's tastier than steaming and more healthy than roasting. It also helps build confidence when people are new to wok cooking. If you can make vegetables tasty, the rest is easy. 

You are self-taught with a somewhat atypical background. How has this helped you in your career so far?

I started my own food production business at 21, and then ran it for 9 years. I learnt so much from working on the job, those were backbreaking years but I learnt that you can never give up. There are no rules when it comes to achieving your dreams (of course be good and just to people along the way and look after your health) but you have to take action to make things happen. Sometimes "no" just re-affirms your "yes". 

Healthy eating has played a big part in your culinary development. What tips do you have for those wanting to eat more healthily and responsibly?

It all starts with the quality of the produce. Know where your food comes from. There is so much we don't understand and don't know in how our food is farmed and cultivated. You only have a label to trust. The best is to grow your own food if that is possible. Next best is to choose organic or biodynamic produce, buy locally from a farmer's market (food that hasn't travelled for miles and miles is going to be more nutritious). Eat clean ie. as little processed foods as possible and eat "live" foods ie. wholefood that has "earth's energy", that doesn't come from a box or packet. Lots of organic fresh fruit and vegetables. When it comes to quality meat or fish, buy organic, it will have less antiobiotics or hormones pumped through it. You don't want to be eating produce full of artificial chemicals, you want quality produce. Also cut down on eating too much meat, a little good quality meat now and then goes a long way. The Chinese way of eating - sharing a fish between 8 people or using a small piece of meat to flavour 2 or 3 dishes is a responsible and frugal way to eat.

Chinese cuisine is not often associated with desserts and baking. Is this unfair?

That has been quite fair to say but times are changing. We do have some incredible bakeries in the Far East and it has come a long way. There is more variety and choice and we have certainly learnt from the French. You have bakeries such as Paul in China and Taiwan. Pierre Herme also recently opened up in Hong Kong. Its now quite the trend for wealthy Chinese businessmen to send their children to France to learn how to be a pastry chef so you are going to see a new generation of Chinese bakers. But yes, traditionally Chinese desserts were often limited to sweet cereal and grain soups, steamed sticky rice dumplings in various forms with plenty of fresh fruit on the table.

What are some of the most popular Chinese desserts?

Cocktail (coconut) buns, Buo luo bun, Sesame balls, Coconut milk sago, Egg custard tarts...

What is your favourite sweet treat?

My personal favourite? Black sesame broiled glutinous rice dumplings smothered in peanut sugar. Not healthy but a great treat?

What’s next for you?

I will be filming Season 3 for Cooking Channel in the U.S. next month and writing another book. I have also just launched, Click & Cook, a library of exclusive video recipes to help people learn how to cook Chinese food at home - it's like having me in your kitchen!

To find out more about Click & Cook, or for more general information, please visit

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