Box clever: Ken's wok solid

According to top chef Ken Hom, Britain's willingness to embrace all manner of culinary influences means we now boast some of the most adventurous cuisine in the world. And he should know; such is his appeal, that 10 per cent of UK households possess one of his woks

If, like Bridget Jones, you are facing the prospect of endlessly recycled turkey curry over the next few days (or weeks), then help is at hand. Ken Hom Travels With a Hot Wok is here to lighten up the post-Christmas gloom.

Combining elements of Michael Palin and Keith Floyd's shows, Hom's new series takes in exotic locations such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Sydney, Los Angeles and Vancouver where he rustles up tempting examples of Pacific Rim, or fusion, cuisine. This fashionable new development in cookery melds traditional Western ideas with spicy flavours from the East. Watching dishes like stir-fried prawns and scallops in black bean and tomato butter sauce, or grilled coconut chicken curry, or Asian-flavoured salmon fishcakes being prepared on screen, you can almost smell the wonderful aromas wafting towards the camera.

The globe-trotting chef was brought up in Chicago's Chinatown where he helped in his uncle's restaurant from the age of 11. He now resides chiefly in a converted 12th-century tower in south-west France, but should that ever pall, he also has houses in Paris and California. This TV cookery lark certainly keeps the wolf from the door. The fact that Hom has penned 14 best-selling cookbooks and that 10 per cent of homes in the UK possess a Ken Hom wok can't hurt, either.

Taking a short break in London recently, Hom explains the thinking behind the series. "The idea is something I've been doing for 20 years, mixing Asian ingredients with Western food. I grew up in a very Chinese household, but also in the larger Western world. I wanted to expand people's horizons and show that Asian ingredients could be used not just for Asian food, but for everyday cooking. It's what I do every day. It shows people how to pep up their cooking."

Perhaps because of the prevalence of foreign travel these days, we're all becoming more ready to accept outside influences. "Ten or even five years ago, this series would have been harder to do," Hom contends. "Today you can buy lemon grass, ginger or Chinese cabbage at any supermarket. Fusion cooking is the natural outcome of the cosmopolitanisation of food. Olive oil is not a very British ingredient, but everyone has it in their cupboard, just as everyone has a bottle of soy sauce.

"It's the result of food products going round the world and being discovered by different countries," he continues. "When I was growing up in a Chinese household, I didn't know what butter or cream were. But as soon as I discovered them, there was no reason not to use them. We're not in such a strait- jacket anymore. In the UK, you have people from all over the world who contribute to an interesting mixed culture. It's the same with food. Your love affair with Indian cooking has opened the door to people experiencing all sorts of different tastes. Now the UK has the most adventurous cuisine in Europe. Like many Anglo-Saxon countries which didn't have a very strong food culture, you're not wedded to your own cuisine. You're not chauvinistic about it like the French or the Italians. History is a good thing, but it can tie you down as well."

This new openness has helped to rescue our reputation in the kitchen. "You suffered from post-War rationing," Hom reasons. "A whole generation grew up just eating bland food with no seasoning. Also, it was not considered good form to discuss food - even at dinner. It was like talking about a bodily function. That's changed as Britain has seen a loosening up of the traditional ways. Food is something to relish with a passion, rather than be ashamed of. You've now moved away from that Protestant ethic of never talking about food or sex."

In our new-found enthusiasm, however, we are in danger of over-egging the pudding. On TV now, it's almost a case of too many cooks spoil the schedules. But Hom argues that "fashion and design have moved at an accelerated rate. British people's insatiable appetite for cooking programmes is merely a need to catch up with the rest of the world."

Does he see any sign of the food fad fading? "What I do is not merely fashion," he declares. "If you do it solidly, the bubble won't burst. It's grounded. In the 14 years I've been on the scene, people have come and gone, but those with a body of work behind them last."

One such is, of course, Hom himself. How does he account for his own televisual longevity? "What I do is simple," he maintains, although anyone who's gone 12 rounds with a hot wok and lost may disagree. "My recipes are doable. Many people have also told me that what they like is my natural enthusiasm to share my culture with the wider British public. Passion is what it's all about."

And you thought it was just a matter of slinging a few odds and sods into a hot wok.

`Ken Hom Travels With a Hot Wok' is on Monday, 8.30pm, BBC2

Suggested Topics
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions