Ken Hom interview



When met with Ken Hom he was sitting at his usual table at the Dorchester. He stays at the hotel every time he comes to London, and it's a good fit - calm, relaxed, quiet, yet welcoming. A reflection of the man himself. Now based in Thailand, Ken was in town to help celebrate the re-launch of his most celebrated work Chinese Cookery – the multi-million selling culinary tome first published 25 years ago.



You seem a very serene person. What advice would you give to others when it comes to avoiding panic in the kitchen?

"Most people tend to be too ambitious, which makes them panic. They try things that are too complicated; things they have never cooked before. They don't realise that when people come to dinner they don't expect to be in a restaurant. And they panic because they aren't organised like a chefs is."

And, of course, professional chefs have an army of help…

"Yes. I always suggest preparing something you've cooked before that's been a success. Even when I entertain I try to cook things I can make beforehand and reheat. Then I can enjoy the evening!"

You've published lots of books on Asian cuisine. Is Chinese, or more specifically Chinese American, cooking still your favourite?

"Not so much Chinese American, just Chinese cooking - simply because it's the best, with Thai a close second."

You now live in Thailand where food is very much part of the culture…

"Places like Thailand and China have a very strong food culture. Over here its different. People don't commune with food in the same way, it's not focus of their lives. The middle classes are interested, but most working class people eat on the run. They don't gather round the table to eat and eating's not the focus of their social life."

As one of the forefathers of TV cookery show how do you feel about the new wave of programmes?

"They bring different perspectives. Jamie Oliver's food has a youthful, almost Mediterranean kind of feel while Rick Stein has brought fish and seafood back into British life. Everyone contributes their speciality which is a good thing."

What big changes have you noticed over the last 25 years?

"The availability of ingredients is so much greater. You don't have to go to Chinatown because they're everywhere."

Has that led to you changing any of the recipes from the original book?

"I've never succumbed to that sort of thing. I offer an alternative if you can't get an ingredient, but always include the authentic one first."

People have become very switched on about food recently, with everyone talking about things like seasonal and local produce. What excites you about food now?

"Ingredients. Their availability and freshness. And especially organic things like free range chicken. You can get fantastic ingredients which weren't so available before which mean you can make super-good simple food."

Slow food, raw food, fair trade food – there are a host of culinary trends around at the moment. Do you see the future bringing more of the same or a swing back to our roots?

"I hope we will go back to our roots because for the planet to survive we have to have sustainable farming and eat less meat. We are consuming the planet."

Chinese cuisine is actually far more extensive than the Cantonese people in Britain are familiar with. Do you think we could end up with regional Chinese restaurants, in the same way there are Indian ones?

"It's already happening. Last weekend I read about (Schezuan restaurant) Gourmet San. There are no Eastern, Fukien or Shanghai restaurants yet, but I think they're all coming. In the late Eighties I travelled through China eating a thousand new dishes and that was just the tip of the iceberg, there's a lot to be discovered."

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