Jack gets the honour of speaking with Ken Hom, cook extraordinaire, TV chef, cookware entrepreneur and a living legend in the food and drink business.
Ken tells us about a life lived without regrets, watching the evolution of the food and drink industry, what it’s like to be retired and some things you can do if you want to make waves as a food entrepreneur.
And as always, there are some silly questions…
Full name: Ken Hom
Role: Chef, author, cookware entrepreneur, TV presenter
DOB: May 3, 1949
Birthplace: Tucson, Arizona
Twitter Handle: @ChefKenHom
J: Growing up, I remember my Mum referring to some of your cookbooks in the few times that she cooked a Chinese style meal. Did you always know that you were going to be a chef, or that you were destined to go this far?
K: I had no idea that I would be chef….in fact, it was probably the furthest thing in my mind. Nor I never imagine I would be so successful. I have now been cooking for 53 years!
Could you tell us a little about the process of writing a cookbook, how long it takes, where you get your recipe ideas and inspiration from?
Recipe ideas and inspiration comes from both my travels and eating and more eating. I begin first with an outline and then a wish list of recipes I want to include. Then I write the recipes and test them rigorously. Finally, I write the text of where the inspiration came from.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the world of Ken Hom?
My days begin quite late now as I love sleeping in. I usually get up around 11 am and over a pot of green tea, I slowly go through all my email messages. Then I read the papers and then eat a late lunch. In the late afternoon, I go for a swim and then shop for food on my way back home. I often have friends over for dinner, so it is into the kitchen for me. After dinner, I catch up on any messages (from all parts of the world.) Then to bed, rather late.
That sounds like a wonderful place to be…of all your achievements, which are you most proud of?
My work on behalf of my favourite charities. I am thrilled that now with my notoriety, I feel finally I can make a difference on causes that are very dear to me.
What has the hardest part of the whole experience, and what have you learnt from it?
Getting to a certain place….and I learnt the more I contribute, the more I want to do to make a difference in this world.
If you could go back to the beginning, what if anything, would you do differently?
Absolutely nothing I would change or do differently.
What’s your culinary philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Keep it simple!
What does the great British public need to know about cooking authentic Chinese food? What one thing would you tell them, if you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear?
That authentic Chinese food is quick, easy, healthy and fantastically delicious.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise. Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
Everyone inspires me, from Madhur Jaffrey to Rick Stein to Jamie Oliver to Delia Smith. However, it was my uncle Paul who I worked with when I was 11 who is my true inspiration. He taught me about food, cooking and how to work hard. He loved good food and passed that on to me.
Did you ever have a point where you knew it was working, or that you’d ‘made it’? Do you remember that point?
I think when I was made OBE by the Queen. When I was first informed of the honour, I thought someone was taking the mickey out of me.
What are your most and least favourite foods, and why?
I like almost everything especially if it is properly cooked. But a duck cooked the Chinese way is one of my favourite food. However, I am not a fan of Brussel sprouts……the smell of cooked sprouts does not make my mouth water.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
I love meeting and working with people. I don’t do anything I don’t like.
What advice would you give to aspiring food entrepreneurs and chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Learn as much as you can. Try to travel to as many places, taste the local food, visit markets, be as open as possible at all times. Read as much as you can as well.
Have you seen the food and drink industry evolve in your time?
Absolutely it has. When I first arrived in the UK in 1971 (forty-two years ago) I remember how dismal supermarkets were. Most of the vegetables looked sad and uninviting. Now there is such a rainbow of foods from around the world available to the ordinary shopper. Restaurants are now serving food that is inventive, savoury, tasty and often with spices and flavours inspired from everywhere. It is better than ever.
And we always ask two customary ridiculous questions…
If you were given a job as head chef on the Death Star and tasked to prepare a meal for Lord Vader, what would you cook for him?
Probably a steamed dover sole with ginger and spring onions, followed by crispy Peking duck and finish off with a warm mango compote with basil and vanilla ice cream.
Same again but you’ve somehow ended up back in time to the dying days of Imperial Rome and it’s Emperor Caligula who’s getting hungry…
I would serve plates and plates of dim sum!
Ken Hom Image Credit: BBC Books