Blog goddess: Ching-he Huang

The TV star and author of 'Chinese Food Made Easy' gives the lowdown on yin and yang, store cupboard essentials, and the health benefits of Oriental cuisine.

Blog goddess: Ching-he Huang

Your star is in the ascendant; how do you feel about the response you had to your last TV series?
The series is designed to give ideas and show people how simple Chinese cooking can be and my take on making Chinese food simpler to cook and eat at home. I call it modern Chinese for hectic lifestyles!

I'm really pleased with the positive response we've had and I'm glad it has inspired many people to take on Chinese cooking or made them think of it in a different light.

Traditional Chinese Food is not easy and it can be very complex and I don't want people to be put off by that, so I hope this introductory series will encourage people to cook it at home.

You have a 1st class degree in economics, so why food?
I was given the responsibility at a young age to cook for my father when my mother was often away and what seemed to be a chore whilst growing up turned into a passion.

I took an economics degree because I was fed up with living on the breadline so I thought that would come in handy some day and (I chose to work with) food because it’s what I know. So after my degree, I set up my food company, Fuge Ltd.

Is having a business brain important for a chef?
Yes absolutely, you need to understand how to make the most of the ingredients, know how to add value to dishes so that both you (or the owner) and the customer are satisfied. Knowing your costs and food margins are
vital in the menu-planning process. Getting this balance is not easy and if mismanaged food businesses or restaurants go bust.

You moved around when you were a child: did living in different countries (Taiwan/South Africa/UK) influence your style of cooking?
It has opened up my eyes and tastebuds. Moving from country to country did challenge my mum to search for ingredients or find substitute ingredients for cooking traditional Chinese food at home, so this is one of the culinary skills I learnt from her.

Do you like to fuse cuisines or are you a purist?
Depends on my mood. When I feel like being in tune with my Chinese side (or when I feel unwell) I tend to cook pure traditional Chinese. When my friends come over, I tend to cook fusion.

The Beijing Olympics have begun - what effect do you think this will have on people's attitudes to Chinese cuisine?
I think people are more open to trying new dishes and with ease of travel, internet, media, people are able to access information about China and learn about it more than ever and allow them to try dishes they would never have heard of before. This will challenge people in what they think is 'Chinese food" because it’s so broad – there are banquet-style dishes, street food dishes, snacks, home-style cooking, traditional Chinese food cooking, imperial Chinese cuisine, as well as regional variations. Chinese cooking is versatile and extremely broad. Then, of course, in the West you have Americanised Chinese food and European Chinese food.

What are your store cupboard essentials?
Groundnut oil
Light soy sauce
Dark soy sauce
Toasted sesame oil
Chilli Oil
Five spice powder
Chilli flakes
Dried Sichuan chillies,
Chinkiang black rice vinegar
Shaoshing rice wine
Good quality chilli bean sauce
Good quality fermented yellow bean sauce
Runny honey,
Peanut butter (to make peanut sauce)
Rice vinegar
Sichuan peppercorns,
Cassia bark
Vanilla pods
Cornflour, potato flour
Good quality oyster sauce

You can buy Chinese ingredients online from Wing Yip

Western Chinese food has sometimes been accused of being MSG-heavy and 'gloopy' but your style is very healthy and light – is that real Chinese cooking?
If you eat out, it depends on where you eat and what menu you order from (some Chinese restaurants have a Chinese and an English menu).

Some Chinese restaurants and take-outs do authentic dishes but they may not necessarily advertise it, and of course some of them use MSG. But if you cook the food yourself you know what you are putting into it and it’s much healthier because you can do it yourself. If you eat with a Chinese family you will experience different Chinese food.

What are the heath benefits to cooking Chinese? Is there a methodology you use?

Do not eat too much of any one food.

Eat plenty of vegetables and lean meats in moderation.

For healthy cooking, stir-frying in a wok over a high heat is perfect, using a small amount of oil and the food is seared – sealing in essential vitamins. Steaming is a great technique and so healthy. 

I love pre-marinating fish in ginger, spring onion, rice wine, fermented black beans and then steaming it – it’s a quick, easy and healthy technique. Use plenty of garlic, ginger, chillies and good stock to enhance flavours in your dishes. 

People have misconception that healthy is bland - so not true!

Why is the hot and cold (yin and yang) aspect to cooking so important?
For health – the traditional Chinese principles of yin and yang is about balance. Knowing how to balance "cooling" and "heat-giving" ingredients (which also applies to cooking methods) means you can feed the body according to its needs and nourish and replenish the "chi" or life force to prevent illnesses or cure illnesses or ailments that you may have.

You're self-taught – what advice would you give to budding chefs?
Practice makes perfect and never stop experimenting! Don't give up on a dish that may have ended up a disaster – a genius recipe could be waiting to hatch.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you have any challenges (food-related or otherwise) you'd like to overcome?
Happy, healthy and still developing in my craft, I would like to travel more and learn about other cultures and cuisines (South America appeals to me) and I would love to learn how to sing and dance (properly)...

Check out some of Ching's recipes here

Read a review of Ching's new book 'Chinese Food Made Easy'

 

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