How We Met: Ken Hom & Ching-He Huang

 

Ken Hom OBE, 63

After growing up in the US, Hom had his big break when he moved to the UK to present BBC TV series 'Ken Hom's Chinese Cookery' in 1982. The accompanying book became one of the bestselling cookery books published by the BBC. He has since written more than 20 culinary titles, while his wok range has sold more than seven million units. He lives in France.

When we first met behind the scenes on [BBC1 show] Saturday Kitchen, Ching was running a business selling exotic ginseng drinks and she was there for a small segment about it on the show, while I was there cooking. She was young and passionate, and she offered to send me some of her drinks.

We bumped into one another over the years and eventually we were asked to appear together as part of a series of cook-offs between pairs of chefs, for the Good Food Channel. That girl can cook – I'm glad that she won. And on the set it was clear that we were both at ease with one another. I was then approached by someone at the BBC and asked if I would do a series with Ching, on China. And in those six weeks we spent travelling the country together, I fell in love with her. She's intense, but she believes in having fun, and we had a lot of laughs together.

The only time I saw Ching get really annoyed was when we arrived at one rural village. I was escorted by an elder to where all the men were and she was put in a room with all the women. Then the men ate first and all the leftovers went to the woman. Ching almost blew her stack.

The trip cemented our relationship and we became great friends. I've come to her in London, she's come to see me in Paris, and we've met in Bangkok [at Hom's restaurant Maison Chin], and being older, I instinctively give her advice about my experience.

For example, I'm approached to endorse this and that all the time. I was even offered a huge amount to go on a reality TV show. Ching said, " I would do it!" so I said, "I'll tell you why it's not all about the money." It's important how the public perceives and respects you; you must decide whether to be a commercial figure, or respected in your field.

Though we're from different backgrounds, we both want to share our culture with the rest of the non-Chinese world, so that others can learn from us.

Ching-He Huang, 34

Since first appearing on British screens in UKTV cooking series 'Ching's Kitchen', the Taiwan-born food writer and chef has gone on to present shows including last year's BBC programme 'Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure' with Ken Hom. She lives in London.

As a teenager, I was given a signed copy of one of Ken's books called Ken Hom's Hot Wok, and I'd cook for my parents from it. Back then he had a thick head of permed hair and a moustache.

We met for a show on the Good Food Channel some years later. By then he had no hair so he looked like a Buddhist monk who'd just wandered out from a Shaolin monastery. We'd been paired up to compete against one another side by side, but he's the sensei master of Chinese cookery so initially I felt shy and didn't say much to him. But he was so calm and Zen-like that I relaxed.

When I was first approached about taking part in Exploring China, I thought it sounded amazing, though on our first day of travels I said to Ken, "Six weeks of me will make you pull your hair out!" And he replied, "Don't worry, I've got no hair!" He was such good fun; we laughed, cried, cooked and learnt together.

Early on in the trip we had an amazing meal in a hotpot restaurant in Beijing. The waitress brought us two massive plastic bibs and asked us to put them on. But when we looked around we realised we were the only two in the restaurant wearing them: everyone was thinking, "They look Chinese, but they're not really Chinese," as we were there with an English film crew. Ken was like, "I've never been so embarrassed in my life."

That trip was important for Ken. He was the first to champion Chinese cookery in the UK and with that trip he almost felt he'd reached the end of his journey to get people to love its cuisine.

Our styles are quite different. Ken's is to create classic dishes, such as roast belly of pork, without veering off too much, while my Peking-style roast duck has a modern twist – roasted then fried, to give it different flavoured layers, then finely chopped on a plate. We've both stolen tips from one another, though: I cook his aubergine stir-fry noodles at home and he took my dried shrimp, finely chopped, for one of his recipes.

I've learnt from Ken to be a bit calmer. He's not only mastered the wok, but by achieving oneness with himself he's become wiser about choices he's made. He says to me, "Say no to things more than you say yes; you have to be careful in this industry to retain your credibility."

Ching-He Huang is launching Click & Cook, a cook-along video recipe library, at chinghehuang.com

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