We hear from the well loved TV chef and food writer on her career, the industry and her inspiration.
The food industry has grown immensely over the last few years with exposure to countless TV shows, celebrity chefs, fresh cook books and new restaurants adorning our streets. Food is even a prime focus on social media with a report stating that Pizza and Sushi are the two most instagrammed foods globally.
Being a bunch of food lovers on the editorial desk, we were all excited when Ching He-Huang agreed to an interview with us. Her delicious dishes from her childhood and encounters with people around the world place her as the ideal expert when it comes to talking about the industry. I’ve watched her on TV and absolutely adore her passion for food and her enthusiasm when meeting new people – characteristics that are the ideal inspiration when it comes to beginners entering the sector.
With her recent book, ‘Eat Clean’ looking at food as an aid to help maintain our body functioning and internally clean, it’s definitely a fresh approach compared to the plethora of diet cookbooks lining shelves in bookstores. As if that wasn't enough, she's launched her very own Lotus Wok. Here she speaks to us about the industry, her humble beginnings and what it takes to make it in this competitive sector.
What was your earliest memory with food?
My earliest memory was growing up on my grandmother’s farm, seeing her working on her wood fired stove, helping her make Zong Zi (bamboo sticky rice dumplings) for the Dragon boat festival when I was 5.
You’re a self taught chef. Is there a huge difference between being self-taught and trained?
I can’t speak for the trained part. But I have learnt on the job! I think if you have great passion for what you do, you naturally jump in. I think there is great benefit to both. If you have access to training, definitely dive in. Take every opportunity to learn and expand yourself.
You’re now a familiar and friendly face on television, but for those that don’t know, how did your career come to fruition following university?
I was struggling financially before I got to university, so things were tough in my family life. I had the opportunity to go into banking but I chose to start my own catering company. I had £500, free rent for 3 months, which I negotiated with a landlady, did a deal with Europa foods (at the time) and that’s how Fuge Foods Ltd. came to fruition. I was doing lunch catering (making jacket potatoes and sandwiches) in the office building where the kitchen was to make ends meet, worked all hours, had two part time staff and a fax machine. That journey led me to creating ready to foods for well known catering companies and restaurants in London, and it’s led me to where I am now.
What has been the most rewarding and most challenging moment in your career?
There are too many to count. The most challenging was my perhaps my first book, China Modern and TV show on UKTV, called Ching’s Kitchen. I was running my food production company in the day, cooking, testing and writing my recipes at night. When I was filming Ching’s Kitchen, I was working all hours to perform and also run my business. It was a 3 week shoot but it felt like 3 years. I enjoyed it but it was a steep learning curve.
My Mum and I are always trying out your recipes but we do wonder, how do you keep the steady stream of recipes coming and is there a source of inspiration you always turn to?
There are still so many dishes I have yet to try to perfect so I guess it’s that search for perfection, which is impossible and always seeking. There are thousands of flavour combinations, dishes, and recipes. I always try to bring something new and show Chinese cuisine in a different light and keep the conversation going. I get so inspired when I travel, speak to other people, eat out at restaurants and from cookbooks but I learn the most when I cook with other chefs.
What are some important qualities one should possess if they want to work within the food industry?
Passion. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. It’s hard work and rewarding but the job has to ‘be’ you. If you have to pretend to love the job, it’s just not sustainable in the long run.
Your latest book, ‘Eat Clean’ is really refreshing as it’s geared towards eating clean to support your body functioning as it should rather than dieting and losing weight. Why was it important for you to detoxify your body and how do the recipes in this book support the idea of eating clean?
This book was a new direction for me, I wanted to take my readers on a journey to explore this way of eating, to open their minds about eating sustainably and for health. My recipes have always been geared towards making Chinese cuisine healthy and accessible and this was a way to push the conversation further, to show it in that light, that along with Asian home cooked dishes, health has always been key. For centuries, Chinese medicine doctors have extolled that ‘food is medicine’. We seem to have forgotten this philosophy and it’s great that people are now remembering. It’s a way of eating for the health of our planet.
The food industry has grown tremendously, which can be a bit intimidating for people starting out. What advice would you give to those wanting to forge a career whether it be a food writer, a chef or caterer?
I would say try all three. Start in the kitchen and work your way up. Cook at home, write in your time and assess what you enjoy the most. These days, the skills you learn become multi disciplinary. In what I do, I have to wear many different hats – not just cook, but be on top of the business side too. The skills you learn become lifelong skills. However, there are no rules. You dictate the speed of your learning and your own progress. Network, speak to industry peers, seek information to grow and develop. You have to be hungry.
How has the food landscaped changed since you first started?
It’s become even more competitive, with more people in the industry which makes it so exciting from a culinary creative standpoint. But it also means you have to be super dedicated and become even more focused. There are more opportunities to expand and sell yourself through online social media, where it can be ‘noisy’, but at the end of the day, there is a path for everyone. So work steadily.
Finally, if you could cook for anyone in the world, who would you cook for and what would be on the menu?
I would like to cook for my grandmother again. I never got the opportunity to cook all the things I have learned since her passing. She was really critical but in a good way and I miss her opinion the most. I would cook her my modern takes all the Chinese classics – Lionhead meatballs, Gua Bao Bun (Tiger Bites Pig), Bamboo chicken, and Buddhas stir fried vegetables.
If you've been inspired and are interested in getting your career started within the food industry, have a look through our apprenticeship opportunities as well as our professional training courses that can get you on your way to the culinary career you dream of.
See more of Ching He-Huang's work on her official website.