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China – The Cookbook

SEEN gets to visit some fascinating places in London. None more so than the School of Wok in Chandos Place, close to Covent Garden. We were there to meet Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan, the husband and wife authors of a new cookbook that collates many varied recipes from all regions of China.

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SEEN gets to visit some fascinating places in London. None more so than the School of Wok in Chandos Place, close to Covent Garden. We were there to meet Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan, the husband and wife authors of a new cookbook that collates many varied recipes from all regions of China.

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Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan.

Kei Lum’s father was editor-in-chief and food critic of a prominent Hong Kong newspaper. He published a ten-volume series of ‘Food Classics’ in 1953, which became the Chinese food bible. It is still in print today. Diora’s family included members of the Qing dynasty court and distinguished members of the pre-1949 Republic of China Government. Fine cuisine is clearly in the blood of both authors.

Published by Phaidon, China: The Cookbook is a sumptuous tour. The recipes are clear to follow and the pictures are mouthwatering. Every dietary requirement is well-covered. Indeed, the authors encourage the keen gastronome to experiment and follow their instincts.

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We were there to try our hands at cooking some of the recipes and thereby understand the subtleties and complexities of one of the world’s great culinary styles. The object of our visit was to make pork, chicken or tofu dumplings; Fujian-Style Fried Rice; and Sautéed Cabbage, whilst School of Wok proprietor Jeremy Wang and his hard-working team cooked Whole Steamed Fish to accompany our efforts.

The Dumplings were quite fiendish to make for the untrained cook but curiously satisfying once we got the hang of them. We used pre-rolled circles of dumpling pastry, wetting the edges then pinching them together and pleating them in such a manner that they stood up on a plate. Diora told us that she and Kei Lum often make one hundred at a time and freeze them, bringing out ten at a time to fry, boil or steam; comfort food at its finest.

The Fujian Fried Rice was a revelation to SEEN. The trick is to mix raw egg well into the cooked rice, coating every grain. When the wok was at a medium heat, we put the egg/rice mix in and kept moving it around. As the egg cooked on the rice, the grains magically separated, avoiding stickiness. We put that into a dish and cooked the rest of the ingredients: oyster, chicken, prawns, greens, mushrooms, and garlic, using the water that the oyster was soaked in to be a base for the sauce, which was created by mixing a little cornflour in to achieve the desired consistency. Meanwhile Kei Lum, Diora and Jeremy moved amongst us to advise and help.

Lastly, the cabbage, chillies and sauce was quickly done (we felt very confident by this stage) and soon we were upstairs sharing the fruits of our labours, accompanied by delicious Whole Steamed Fish. It was indeed a feast and a fantastic introduction to Chinese cooking for those of us who hadn’t done it very much before. As Diora said to SEEN: ‘the book is for everyone, not just restaurants.’

Interestingly, the School of Wok uses convection heat cooker tops, which had frames upon which to rest traditional woks (of which they have an extensive range). Jeremy takes great pride in training people from all walks of life in the delights of Chinese and Asian cuisine and would dearly love the opportunity of doing more work in schools, feeling that these essential life skills should be an important part of the curriculum for the next generation.

schoolofwok.co.uk

The School of Wok
61 Chandos Place
London
WC2N 4HG

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