Chef who is out to show the world just wok's cooking
PUBLISHED: 11:44 10 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:12 07 September 2010
She s prettier than Antony Worrall Thompson and less foul-mouthed than Gordon Ramsay. Celebrity chef Ching-He Huang escapes the heat of the kitchen to talk to Sanchez Manning about food, life in north London and the Olympic games Ching-He Huang - the
She's prettier than Antony Worrall Thompson and less foul-mouthed than Gordon Ramsay. Celebrity chef Ching-He Huang escapes the heat of the kitchen to talk to Sanchez Manning about food, life in north London and the Olympic games
Ching-He Huang - the new celebrity chef on the block - is about to do for Chinese cooking what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners.
The softly spoken but determined 30-year-old is on a mission to show Britain that - despite its greasy reputation - Chinese cuisine can be healthy.
Her fight against gloopy sweet and sour chicken and fried prawn balls started on Monday with the first episode of her new BBC Two series, Chinese Food Made Easy, and an accompanying book.
Taiwanese-born Ching is certain that she can win over even the staunchest take-away aficionados.
"It's the people with the perception that Chinese food is sugary, salty and not healthy who I'd like to get in the corner with my wok and show them there are other ways to cook Chinese," she says.
"My message is for people to start to try to cook Chinese cuisine at home because it's so easy.
"There's such a difference between take-away dishes and home cooking. Home cooking has a much wider variation of dishes and is so much fresher.
"I'm not saying all take-aways are bad. But they can get very expensive and there are a lot of hidden ingredients such as sugar, fat and salt.
"And it's all about knowing what you order - many people stick to the same types of fatty dishes."
But where does this leave the local Dragon House or Oriental City?
Ching believes that the decent eateries will welcome the change.
"The good Chinese restaurants will be proud of the opportunity to encourage people to try more classic dishes," she says. "Often you go to a restaurant and there's one menu for the westerners and another for the eastern customers.
"Hopefully, my approach will encourage restaurants to put more traditional dishes onto the menu."
I ask Ching if the average Brit is put off cooking Chinese food because they don't know where to buy the ingredients. However, she refuses to accept this as an excuse not to try recipes at home.
Her quick-fire answer to the question of where to shop is - 'Tesco'.
"Most of the ingredients in my book you can get in supermarkets," she explains. "The only ingredients you probably can't buy are black rice vinegar - but this can be replaced with balsamic vinegar - and Shao Hsing wine, which can be exchanged with dry sherry."
She has lived in London since she was 11, when she moved to Golders Green from Taiwan via South Africa with her family.
She refers to herself as a north London girl and still lives between Hampstead and Cricklewood with her actor partner Jamie Cho.
Despite cooking mostly Chinese food at home, she confesses to having a soft spot for stodgy British fare. "I love British food," she says. "When I first came to Britain, everyone was complaining about the food in school but I loved it.
"And there's nothing like bangers and mash with gravy on a cold day."
However, the TV chef, who counts Rick Stein and Ken Hom among her cooking heroes, admits she has struggled in the past with her mixed background.
"I'm fully Chinese but inside I'm British," she says. "When I was growing up I had some difficulties with my identity because I had quite traditional parents and my friends wanted me to go out all the time.
"I'm fine now though and I'm glad that I can speak fluent Chinese and English - I think I'm lucky."
At just 21, the still inexperienced economics graduate set up her first food business, Fuge, which now employs 21 staff and delivers Chinese-inspired salads all over London.
A combination of a difficult financial situation and the example of her entrepreneurial father gave her the initial push to take the leap into the catering industry.
But looking back, she believes that her career choice was as much to do with fate as necessity.
"I completed my economics degree and I didn't expect to go into food but I think it was meant to be. I was brought up by my grandmother until the age of five and she used to cook for the whole family of 30.
"She's a really good, fast cook so I suppose that's where it all started without me realising it.
"And when I was 13, I had to cook for my father a lot because he's pretty useless in the kitchen and my mum was away with work."
With the Beijing Olympics drawing the world's interest to all things China-related, Ching has high hopes for Britain's Chinese community.
"I think we're going to see a lot of change in business," she predicts. "Lots of Chinese companies are investing in Britain. It's very exciting.
"In the last year, with the Olympics coming up, there have been a lot more exhibitions about Chinese culture.
"Chinese people are now contributing outside the typical industries like law and accountancy and we're seeing many more young Chinese artists and fashion designers."
She adds: "I'm definitely looking forward to the Games - I'll be supporting both sides.
"As long as Britain picks up medals and China picks up medals, I'll be happy."
Chinese Food Made Easy continues on BBC Two on Mondays at 8.30pm.