Ken Hom is a celebrity chef who travels the world endlessly, educating the world on producing wonderful food, whether that be via his television appearances or his fantastic books. Ken Hom was born in 1949 in Tucson, Arizona to Cantonese parents. Growing up, Ken found that nothing compared to his mother’s cooking – going so far as to say that he found America food unpalatable. He discovered his passion for cooking when he started giving cooking lessons to pay for his University fees, where he was studying art history and french history. Ken Hom published his first book on Chinese cookery techniques was published in 1981, and very quickly garnered acclaim which led to The New York Times publishing a major profile on him. Ken labels that article as the real turning point of his career. Shortly after, Ken Hom could be found on TVs when he was handed his own series in 1983, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery. The accompanying book of the same title has gone on to become a bible for anyone who wants to learn how to cook Chinese cuisine, having sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. Since then, Ken has written 36 books, has presented five television series, and sold over eight million of his woks worldwide. He is quite literally a legend in the world of food. I remember growing up and seeing his cookbooks lining my Mums’s bookshelves. It was quite the honour to have a chance to talk books with Ken. Please enjoy my interview with the wonderful Ken Hom…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I tell them that I am a cook.
I am currently reading Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
My earliest memory would be around the age of 8 because I only began to learn English at age 6. My first language was Cantonese.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I would encourage young people to read the book I’m currently reading, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg because it would give them an optimist’s view of their future.
When did you first discover your love for food?
I discovered my love for food whilst working at my uncle’s restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
The worst job was whilst working at a stock broker’s office…very boring!
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I seem to never have enough time to read as much as I like. Nevertheless, I am a huge book buyer.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
Not only top cookery books but I think it is important to read on the history of food itself.
Can you remember how the opportunity to write your first cookbook came about?
Through a famous French chef, Jacques Pépin who recommended me to his editor in New York.
I reread Life and Death in Shanghai by Cheng Nien because it is so gripping and historical.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
The book I recommend most is Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg as everyone who has read it seems much happier.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
A world without books would be very sad and extremely ignorant.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Jonathan Fenby who is a great writer of two of my favorite subjects: China & France.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I hope not! I love the feel of a real book and the act of turning the pages.
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
Without a doubt, I have to go back to — Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg which is a book about hope and that we are living in the best of times and how grateful we should be.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
The Art of Happiness by HH Dalai Lama which helped confirm how I felt about life.
The first I’d pick is The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo. This is probably the best cookbook ever that really explains the essence and soul of Chinese food and cooking. It is written on a level that I aspire to be when I write cookery books.
My next pick would be Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1 and 2 by Julia Child and Simone Beck, it’s a real gem of a cookery book and it hooked me on French food and cooking.
Lastly, I would select An Invitation to Indian Cookery by Madhur Jaffrey. Madhur’s first book opened the door to one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Her passion can be felt on every page.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Alas, much too many to be mentioned!
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
Recent books on contemporary China, lots of biographies and many historical books.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I have just written one called My Stir-Fried Life, it was released in September 2016.