Celebrity chef Kylie Kwong tells SHONALI MUTHALALY how her latest show, ‘My China’ took her back to her roots
Kylie makes cabbage look alluring. Kylie works saucepans like she’s at a DJ console. Kylie makes chopping carrots look glamorous.
Not surprisingly, her show, “Kylie Kwong: Cooking with Heart And Soul” has succeeded in inspiring couch-potatoes around the world to get their aprons on. It has deepened the all-pervasive fascination for Chinese food. And, triggered vociferously friendly Internet discussions on everything from her recipes to her chipper personality.
Reassuringly, she sounds just as chirpy over the phone, calling from Sydney, in a conversation with MetroPlus about her latest offering, “My China”, which premiers on Discovery Travel and Living tomorrow.
“We wanted to create much more than a cooking show,” she says, attempting to explain why her show seems to have touched a chord.
“People respond to raw emotion.” Kylie adds that it’s easy for her to connect with the audience when she really believes in what she’s talking about. “I’m not an actor. I can’t pretend,” she says. “What I can do is get in front of the TV and tell the world how much I love Chinese food...”
Besides, she states she’s inspired when she talks of something that’s close to her heart. “I never stop. I’d drive you mad,” she laughs.
Since most of the world has had an enduring affair with Chinese food, “My China” is a logical follow-up to “Cooking With Heart And Soul”, which showed Kylie recreating classical Chinese recipes, many learnt from her mother, in her slick kitchen. But because, she is a professional chef, her techniques are more sophisticated than rustic, and her results look like glossy advertisements from a gourmet magazine.
Her restaurant, Billy Kwong, has 60 dishes on the menu, all of which are based on traditional Chinese recipes. “The difference is in the quality of the produce I use. I use organic vegetables. No chemicals. No MSG, or oyster sauce out of a bottle. If I want plum sauce, I make it out of fresh plums.” (Following Kylie’s beliefs, Billy Kwong aims to “to leave as small and light an environmental footprint as possible, to give back to the community whenever and wherever we can, and to think globally and act locally.”)
This show includes, what Kylie calls, “travel, history and raw emotion…” since it covers her travelling through China, reconnecting with her roots. A fourth generation Australian, she’s calls herself a 29th generation Kwong. “But, I felt connected with China when I visited.”
The series opens with her visiting her family’s ancestral village in Toishan. “I’m nearly 40 now…, she says, talking of how important the homecoming was to her. “It was amazing, very emotional. I felt like I was returning to the clan… It was very primeval.”
For additional colour, there’s Kylie’s great grandfather, who seems like quite an interesting character. “My great grandfather moved to Australia during the gold rush. He had four Chinese wives, and 24 children.” Kylie’s grand return included a visit to her grandfather’s house (It’s still there!) and spending quality time with her long lost Chinese relatives. “They spoke no English, and I speak no Cantonese or Mandarin.” But, they communicated. “We cooked for each other. We laughed. We ate.”
This show’s about more than making a perfect bowl of noodles. “You can call it a cooking and travelling show. Nine episodes. Nine different provinces,” she says talking of how they have tried to show how the physical landscape and geography of each place.
“The physical look of the local fare. The local market — because that is really what says everything about the local community… It’s very textures. Far more than just a pretty cooking show.”