Ching He-Huang may be a self-taught chef but she was taught by some of the best, her very own family. With a long line of traditional heritage, Taiwanese-born Ching helped out with a lot of the cooking growing up and moves to South Africa and later to London helped mold her tastes and styles but luckily for us (and our taste buds), she came back to her roots which included dishing up delicious Chinese cuisine. These days Ching has a plethora of bestselling cookbooks under her belt, well-loved cooking shows in the UK and the US, a line of utensils and tableware, and even her own mushrooms! Talk about giving Rachel Ray a real run for the money!
Just in time for the big festivities, Ching's Chinese New Year will be premiering February 10th at 5pm on the Cooking Channel offering up simple and tasty recipes, decoration ideas, and backstories on traditions all from beautiful Chinatown in San Francisco. Ching has the scoop on how to accomplish it all and since she is the pro, we had the chance to ask her all about it and then some.
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OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): For those unaware, OK, I'm talking about me, how do the animals come into play with the Chinese calendar?
Ching He-Huang: Well in the Chinese calendar there are twelve animals in the year and they go around in a cycle. None of the animals have a bad meaning so if you are that animal, you take on the characteristics of it. They're all positive traits. Like if you are born in the year of the dragon it means you are powerful and strong, the tiger is one of the luckiest signs, and the rat is very clever and homely and so on. Also right now we are coming into the year of the snake and they have really charming features. They're really social, clever, quick, you know, just like the animal. They're all good things!
I know you were exposed to a lot of different cultures when you were little. How did you ultimately come back to focusing on Chinese cooking?
I guess being born in Taiwan I grew up with Chinese culture at such a young age and then, I feel like it was taken away from me because I moved to South Africa with my family and then, I moved to London. Even growing up I wanted to be blond and just kind of shied away from my “Chinese-ness.” Throughout travels my parents always kept us in touch with a bit of our Chinese roots and I've actually come full circle a bit. I cooked for my parents growing up, especially for my dad who was really a bad cook and my mother who was away a lot for work. It wasn't until I really got into food and I was cooking for someone else and they were like, “Do you cook Chinese?” I was like, yes I do! It's like it took other people to recognize to me that I actually had the skill. That's when I really fell in love with cooking Chinese food. It was through this career and journey that I then discovered more about the culture, the animals we just talked about, I learned different stories about festivals, legends, and the history that comes with the food and then realized who I am. I've gone back to my roots and for me, that's a pleasure. To be able to share it with others is just great.
It's so funny how in life you need someone else to point out what a good job you're doing before you realize it for yourself.
Yeah! You need that! We're often so hard on ourselves and we should just be kinder to ourselves or if we're totally rubbish at something, we should just laugh at ourselves. That should be our Chinese New Year resolution! [Laughs.]
Is there such a thing as a Chinese New Year's resolution?
Oh my god! [Laughs.] All of the Chinese New Year food is like a resolution! You can't get away from it! Everything has got symbolisms. Like you have red and gold because it symbolizes luck and prosperity, or you have noodles so you'll have a long life. You should have lots of fish because fish means abundance or have dumplings because they look like golden nuggets. So basically everything! You can't get away from not having a Chinese New Year resolution!
You've traveled and eaten your way all over the globe but have you ever come to Orange County to check out we have to offer?
Of course I have! I've been to the Orange County Fair! [Laughs.] It was so massive. I went to L.A. and we had some friends who were going to drive down to the Orange County Fair and were like, “are you coming?” We were like, yeah OK let's go! It was just so random. It was such an eye-opener. It was the first time I really tried American junk food and I was in heaven. I had the Triple Bypass, I had a Krispy Kreme, a chicken burger, and I had these little popsicles that pop in your mouth. I can't remember what they were called but they were amazing. We had corn, big giant turkey legs, and when we came out of there I think I had meat sweats. [Laughs.] It was just wonderful, so much fun. I loved Orange County. Unfortunately I only had that one evening at that fair but I'm definitely coming back!
Ha! Yeah, the fair is quite the display. We have better places I promise! So what can the viewer's look forward to with Ching's Chinese New Year?
It's quite mad! For the whole hour I take you on a journey across San Francisco's Chinatown which is one of the most gorgeous Chinatown's in the world. Basically I go out shopping for ingredients, I cook on the street, I pass out my recipes, and I come up with the blueprint of decorations, flowers, and an actual New Year's menu that you can take away and follow at home easily. So there is minimum fuss for you with lots of stuff for everyone. I really hope that someone will be inspired to think that if I can do it then they can do it on that day or even to try it on any day for their family. I really hope you'll like it!
You can follow Ching He-Huang on Twitter @Chinghehuang and get recipes, links to her books, blog, and tableware through her website www.chinghehuang.com. Get more info about Ching's Chinese New Year on the Cooking Channel's website www.cookingchanneltv.com and catch this special episode on February 10th at 5pm (PST).
Ali Lerman knows much about comedy, basketball, and celebrating Wu-Tang Wednesday. She’s been writing for fifteen years and still calls her mom with grammatical questions.