Ken Hom on Britain's Asian food revolution

The popular chef speaks to The Week Portfolio ahead of his appearance at Althorp Food & Drink Festival

Ken Hom
(Image credit: Ken Hom)

Famed Chinese-American chef Ken Hom has offered Gordon Ramsay some advice following the accusations of cultural appropriation that have dogged the Scotsman’s new “authentic Asian” venture.

In a review of a preview event for Ramsay’s new Lucky Cat restaurant in Mayfair this week, the food writer Angela Hui said that she was “the only east Asian person in a room full of 30-40 journalists and chefs”.

Ramsay was accused of “whitewashing” by fellow chef and restaurateur George Chen and Hom told The Guardian: “I wish Gordon the best and wish him much success. Perhaps I can be of help as consultant? I do have 59 years of experience in Asian cuisine.”

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Ramsay could do well to take up Hom on his offer, the American-born chef having been at the vanguard of Chinese cooking in the UK for decades.

The Week Portfolio spoke to Hom recently, ahead of his appearance at the Althorp Food & Drink Festival, to discuss his career and his role in the rise of high quality Chinese cuisine.

You have been at the forefront of Chinese cooking in Britain since the early 80s - how has Chinese food in the UK changed over time?

Enormously as the world has changed as well. Formerly sauces and ingredients that were only available in Asia is now in supermarkets everywhere in Britain. Chinese food in the early 80s was a bit cutting edge and unknown to the general public. Today Chinese food is part of the DNA of British food, being among the most eaten popular food in the UK. It has become part of everyday life and many people have grown up with it. The Chinese wok has become part of everyone’s kitchen.

The great Chinese takeaway will forever be a favourite in the hearts of the British people - but which restaurants in the UK do you think are pushing the cuisine forward?

A. Wong in London is a pioneer of what I would call British-Chinese which means Chef Andrew Wong who is British-Chinese has more or less reinvented Chinese food within a British context. He has deconstructed classic Chinese dishes and reinvented them to our delicious delight with a British flair. Other restaurants like Kai in Mayfair, Royal China in Queensway, the Hunan and China Tang in London are all bringing authentic quality Chinese food to the UK and showing the way forward for all Chinese restaurants across the UK.

You do a lot of work with Action Against Hunger - what more need to be done to improve nutrition, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene around the world?

We need better organisation: Working on high protein food, encouraging the eating and use of insects, stop wastage, education here is the key.

And how can individuals help?

We can begin first by stopping food waste. It makes me angry that 40-50% of all food in the UK wind up in the bin. We must stop buying bigger qualities of food than we need. We can also help by patronizing organic farmers and encouraging the growth of organic food and meats. We need to recycle as much as possible and turn away from plastic.

What do you think Instagram’s effect on the food industry has been?

Good as it inspires more people to eat well and to share their experiences.

With the rise of food tourism, which destination would you suggest we visit next?

Asian countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia. Their food is amazing and for me a real eye opener to another world of food.

Have you got a new favourite dish that Portfolio readers might like to try and cook to impress their next dinner guests?

Using the best organic food you can find and cooking a savoury simple dish such as a chicken curry. You would be amazed how a dish that is cooked with love and good ingredients and is delicious and tasty can impress even the most jaded guests!

Ken Hom’s Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

Ingredients:450 g (1 lb) boneless, skinless chicken breasts1 tablespoon light soy sauce1½ tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry1/2 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon sugar1 teaspoon sesame oil2 teaspoons cornflour2 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) oil1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh root ginger1½ tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots3½ tablespoons finely chopped spring onions2½ tablespoons coarsely chopped salted black beans150 ml (5 fl oz) chicken stock

Method:Cut the chicken into 5 cm (2 inch) chunks and place in a bowl. Mix with the soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, salt, sugar, sesame oil and cornflour.

Heat a wok over a high heat, then add the groundnut oil. When it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Add the ginger, garlic, shallots, 1½ tablespoons of the spring onions and the black beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Add the stock, bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Garnish with the remaining spring onions and serve.

What advice would you give to young people hoping to become the next Ken Hom?

Stick to what you know and love. Remember it is important to be open to learning every single day, the moment you stop learning, it is the end!

Ken Hom OBE will be headlining this year’s Althorp Food & Drink Festival, an award winning, family friendly gastronomical delight, taking place on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 May. On Saturday Ken will be demonstrating his skills in the Cookery Theatre, as well as sharing his culinary expertise with a select group of Festival guests at exclusively hosted 90-minute masterclasses.

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