Five minutes with Gok Wan

The DJ, stylist and presenter is also a food lover and grew up working in his dad’s Chinese restaurant. Since bursting on our screens in 2006 with Channel 4’s How To Look Good Naked, Gok has presented four cookery series and written two cookbooks – Gok’s Wok and Gok Cooks Chinese.

He tells Kerry Fowler about the first recipes he ever cooked, which ingredient he’d take to a desert island and why he helped co-found the Golden Chopsticks Awards, which celebrate the UK’s best East and South East Asian restaurants.

Five minutes with Gok Wan

What’s your very first memory of food?

My first memory of food is not eating it but serving it. From the tender age of two or three, I would be serving in Dad’s restaurant (it was the seventies and you were allowed to do stuff like that then). My brother and I would be dressed up in our mini tuxes and dicky bows, walking around the restaurant soaking up the smells of prawn toast, spring rolls and sizzling beef. We’d go to work with Mum and Dad, dance with the customers and just be part of the furniture. It was a wonderful time.

What’s the first recipe you properly learned to cook?

I have no idea. I have cooked so much and from such a young age – from frying off seaweed and marinating duck to preparing prawn toast and making chow mein – that I just couldn’t say. The restaurant was a small family business and we just learned to cook; what we saw we picked up straight away. The chefs became our friends. I’ve never had a single cooking lesson in my life. We learned about ingredients, what worked well together, the processes, cooking on a scale, the order of prep and making sure you were ready for service from watching our parents – it was just part of our DNA.

What’s the one recipe that you can’t live without?

Basic fried rice. It’s my comfort food and also one of the most intelligent dishes out there. I love the idea that you use up produce that might have been thrown away, I love how tasty it is, how versatile, how everyone enjoys it whether they are vegan, carnivore or vegetarian. It could be an egg fried rice or a nasi padang – even a paella is a version. Anything to do with rice, basically!

Which food do you absolutely hate?

Tarragon. Yuk, I hate, hate, hate that flavour.

What’s the one ingredient that you’d take to a desert island with you?

Garlic granules. I put them in everything. There’s something about that flavour that makes everything taste good. It’s my version of MSG.

What’s the meal you’d miss the most while there?

Tofu with chilli and black beans for certain. But my all-time favourite dish would have to be my dad’s wonton noodles. They are delicious, simple, elegant and remind me of our happy times around the dinner table. Dad does a pork and prawn wonton noodle in a clear broth with pak choi – and a ton of chilli oil.

Which cookbook would you take with you to the island?

I managed to get a copy of a Peranakan cookery book when I was in Asia filming. I love Peranakan food [which combines Chinese ingredients with Malaysian and Indonesian spices and cooking techniques] and the book is a bible. I can never remember the order of ingredients so I’m constantly referring to it.

What do you do to relax?

I don’t read ever – I have zero concentration. I don’t watch films, either. Music is my recreation and my taste is wide. I’m a big opera fan. I DJ, so am always listening to new tracks, ambient house in particular – Orbital, Chicane. And at the other end of the scale, I love Simon and Garfunkel, Tracy Chapman. Do I sing along? I have a voice that can clean ovens, so I try to avoid it.

What are the Golden Chopsticks Awards all about?

I’m one of the founders of the awards and they mean a lot to me. They are a huge celebration of East and South East Asian food in the UK. We’re a mighty force, a huge cuisine that gets eaten every day up and down the country, and the awards champion the people who work in the industry. This is our fourth year and the awards are now cemented in the culinary diary. They are hugely important, not only to celebrate the food but to give East and South East Asian food a massive profile.

What are some of your favourite restaurants to visit for East and South East Asian food?

There are so many. In London: Dumplings’ Legend on Gerrard Street, Cafe TPT on Wardour Street, Rasa Sayang on Macclesfield Street. I just love eating out with friends. I’m very social!

The winners of the 2022 Golden Chopsticks Awards will be announced live from the ceremony on 26 September via Instagram @thegoldenchopsticksawards.

Visit the website for the list of finalists and more information.

More to discover

Subscribe to our magazine

Food stories, skills and tested recipes, straight to your door... Enjoy 5 issues for just £5 with our special introductory offer.


Unleash your inner chef

Looking for inspiration? Receive the latest recipes with our newsletter

We treat your data with care. See our privacy policy. By signing up, you are agreeing to delicious.’ terms and conditions. Unsubscribe at any time.