We love to meet amazing bloggers, vloggers, and talented content producers in general! Especially when they are doing something as interesting as what Steph and Chris, the couple behind the excellent Chinese Cooking Demystified YouTube Channel are doing.
We had a conversation with them about food, cooking, and more! Check it out...
How did you get into creating food videos?
Chris: So we absolutely adore the food over here in China – basically ever since me and Steph started dating, we’ve loved to eat around the country and do our best to replicate the dishes we’ve enjoyed.
Steph: Then one time we found Luke Nguyen’s (a Vietnamese-Australian chef) Vietnamese show of him cooking on the street of Vietnam and start binge watching it. We thought it was so cool, then we started to think about doing a few cooking videos of our own.
Who are some of your personal favorite chefs/cooks? Whether they are celebrity chefs, fellow YouTubers/bloggers, or people you know in real life, who inspires your cooking and your channel?
Chris: Where to begin! In terms of video, I think one of our biggest inspirations was probably the aforementioned Luke Nguyen. We absolutely love his show – if you haven’t seen it (it’s on Australian TV), it’s sort of a combination travel/cooking show where he’ll go to different locations in Vietnam and Southeast Asia and cook a local, authentic dish outside on a camping burner.
We really wanted to do this sort of approach at first, but after doing some research it seemed incredibly challenging for amateurs like us to pull off. We also quite like Chef John from Food Wishes - his kind of narrative style seemed a bit more approachable, so that’s the direction we went.
I’ve also learned so much by just watching Oliver Babish – he does the same sort of style of video, but with the professionalism dialled up to 11. I’ve watched and re-watched his videos just to get an idea of how he frames things and how he transitions.
In terms of cooking, when I was 19 a buddy of mine in university worked on the line at a nice restaurant in Boston and was absolutely obsessed with cooking. He’d like go to house parties with a backpack filled with spices and whip something up with whatever people had in their fridge. Watching him do his thing really piqued by curiosity – he ended up dropping out of university and going to culinary school (coincidentally is now the head chef at a Western restaurant in Hong Kong).
But really, I think cooking in general is really enjoying a renaissance – these days, I wouldn’t necessarily consider my interest in cooking special in any way. There’s a reason food and cooking is right up there with kittens and puppies in terms of popularity of internet content… it’s something a whole lot of people love to do!
Steph: For me, it’s mostly Asian chefs/people. Pailin from Hot Thai Kitchen, Luke Nguyen as previously mentioned, my dad, the author of a series of Cantonese cook book Pan Yingjun and the Hong Kong restaurateur Ko Wing Sun. They really inspired me to keep practicing and improving my learning and skills. Especially for Mr. Pan Yingjun and Mr. Ko Wing Sun, they’re the people I really look up to.
For Western chefs, I watched Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein and Nigella Lawson growing up. I learned my basic knowledge about western food from their show. And I LOVE Thomas Joseph and his Kitchen Conundrum on Martha Stewart’s Youtube Channel “Everyday Food”.
What kind of food trends/popular items do you see that you think our mostly American readership would love? What would they be surprised by?
Steph: Southwestern Chinese food in general. First, it’s sooooo underrated even in China. It has such bold flavors and diversity. It’ll give you constant surprise when you travel around the region and find all these creations and link with other parts of China and Southeast Asia. The region’s cuisine is like telling an anthropology story with food.
Chris: I think people can be surprised by the sheer diversity of what’s available in China. Different areas of the country have radically different flavors and dishes – the difference in Sichuan food and Cantonese food is pretty well known by this point, but that’s just scratching the surface. The Northwest of China has lamb, barbecue, and Central Asian flavors. Yunnan has dishes that wouldn’t seem out of place in Thailand or Myanmar. Throw a dart on a map of China and do a deep dive into that place’s cuisine – I guarantee there’d be some dishes there that wouldn’t be close to anything you could imagine have existed.
What Chinese/Asian techniques could they learn from?
Steph: That’s a tough question. Maybe different kinds of fermentation? The Chinese use fermentation to preserve a lot of food, be it veggies, starch, meat or even tea. The slow-grown flavour came from the mix of ingredients and microbes are so in-depth and profound. It’s very interesting to see somehow limited recourse (comparatively to, say coastal China) can lead to such great cuisine.
Chris: Fermentation is a good one – for example, there’s a sort of fermented tomato paste from the Southwest of China that I think could be creatively applied to certain Western dishes. But really, nowadays a lot of people don’t have earthenware jars in their backyard and a patience to ferment stuff.
So I’ll give a more controversial answer: MSG. Use it to season, and don’t look back. There’s so much fear, uncertainty, and doubt around MSG that it can get sort of irritating. No, it’s not bad for you. Many cooks in China’ll have a bottle lying around their kitchen next to the salt and pepper.
And we always try our best to imitate some of the dishes we love most at some of our favorite restaurants in China. Not always - but often - those dishes’ll involve MSG. This ain’t some sort of evil trick the restaurant’s trying to pull… when balanced and used in moderation, MSG makes stuff taste good. We live in an age where famous chefs are putting “umami bombs” into everything. Something seems seriously off when people are starting to use dry rubs with seaweed and chili with fish sauce, no?
Why skirt around the issue? If you want the isolated taste of umami, use MSG. No need to make everything you cook have hints of mushroom and fermented fish.
What’s your “last meal” dish? And if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Steph: Last meal, it should be a meal: dim sum, sashimi (both Cantonese and Japanese) and French dessert. I think I’ll stick with dim sum if I can only eat one thing for the rest of my life.
Chris: One dish for the rest of my life? Ouch. For me, variety is the biggest draw of eating – I’d rather have something good that I’ve never had before than the perfect version of something that I’ve had a million times. Last meal? Surprise me.
If you could visit anywhere in the world and eat anything your heart desires, what would it be? Money is no object.
Steph: For visiting, Peru; for living choice: Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City!
Chris: The areas in the world that I’m really curious about, cuisine wise, are the Andes and West Africa. There’s so much that seems so totally different, in terms of produce and techniques.
Do you have a food motto that you live by? What is it?
Steph: “Don’t judge, be open-minded.” As a Cantonese person, we have the reputation of “eating anything”, LOL. Well, truth is, I didn’t eat spicy food at all when I was growing up. But then all the time I spent travelling in Thailand completely changed me. I learned how to embrace other cultures/cuisines and eat whatever the locals are eating.
Later in my travelling with Chris, we had some very very strange food. And we were still able to appreciate and enjoy them with this motto in mind.
Chris: To take it a step further, I think it’s good to remember that there’s no advantage to *not* liking something. I think some people can get a bit stuck in the sort of thinking “well, I never liked olives… didn’t like them as a kid, don’t like them now, I’m just a person that doesn’t like olives”. Taste is remarkably flexible if you allow it to be – if there’s an entire culture that loves a certain food and I don’t… well, that’s ain’t on the culture. I take that as my personal failing.
What are your goals for your channel?
Steph: One million subs! LOL. Joking aside, I’d hope to keep doing it as much as we can and let more people learn about how real Chinese food is made. And introduce more of our favourite dishes to people outside of China.
Chris: Yeah, that’s the goal. It’d be fun to grow to the point where we’d be able to devote more time to it, but in the end we just wanna share some recipes. There’s a whole mountain of awesome food over here in China, and it’s not like we can really drag people over here and force-feed them the stuff we like.
The next thing is to do our absolute best to zero in on a recipe that could get you the same taste, and try to communicate that as clearly as we can. We’re not professional chefs so can’t always quite get 100% there, but that’s the idea.