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Great taste: Chinese cuisine has come a long way since the humble takeaway

Jeremy Pang, the owner of School of Wok

Jeremy Pang, the owner of School of Wok

Published: 27 January, 2017
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA

JEREMY Pang, 32, founder of School of Wok cooking school in Covent Garden, believes the best Chinese cuisine comes from mastering the core techniques.

“From home cooking to high-end restaurants they are still following very traditional techniques of Chinese cooking,” said Mr Pang. “Stir frying, steaming, deep frying, braising, poaching, roasting and double cooking, which is putting together two or more of those techniques.”

Once you have learnt these, he said, you can cook most Chinese dishes by experimenting with flavours and sauces, which is how Chinese restaurants are able to have so many choices on the menu. 

For Mr Pang, cooking ran in the family. “I’ve been cooking since I was 12 but in a Chinese family you never really get taught,” he said. “My dad was a very good cook and so was grandma – she had a takeaway in Crouch End in the 1970s. My grandfather also ran a Chinese bakery, Kowloon, in the 1960s. My dad and my uncle were the more competitive cooks but they didn’t teach us, they said ‘taste it and you’ll know’. We used to play little games where we had to guess every single ingredient while we were having dinner.”

The family used to visit Chinatown for food a lot  while he was growing up, but he said there was a “lull” for 10 years or so. But for the past five years he said things were improving, with more variety and more high-end restaurants appearing. 

The 32-year-old honed his cooking skills at a course at Le Cordon Bleu, before starting up School of Wok. 

“I started in 2009 teaching people in their own homes how to cook Chinese food. I would turn up with a wok, the ingredients and a bag of knives and teach people a few dishes. The concept was anything you have ever tasted in a Chinese restaurant we can recreate at home, if not better. In 2012 we started here in Covent Garden as a proper cooking school – Pan-Asian, Chinese, South East Asian, Korean etc.”

The school now teaches up to 8,000 people a year.

As for Chinese New Year, he said it is all about “feasting” and many foods hold a special significance. “If you eat noodles at Chinese New Year they shouldn’t be cut, they should be as long as possible as that represents long life. You should eat whole fish on the bone as that means an abundance of everything in your life. Dumplings should be folded like little buckets of gold. Whole chickens, similar to whole fish, mean joyfulness and prosperity. Most food will have a relationship with something superstitious. 

“This time of year is always about prosperity, happiness, wealth, health and anything that can make you feel good about yourself.”

Mr Pang has also written a book called Chinese Unchopped, which breaks down the core skills,“simplifying the explanations not the techniques.” He is currently working on another book based around Hong Kong street food. 

• School of Wok, 61 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HG, 020 7240 8818, https://schoolofwok.co.uk

Above: Beef Rendang, one of the dishes at Miusan

OWNER of new restaurant Miusan, Chris Singam has always embraced “Pan-Asian culture”. 

Growing up in Malaysia, he attended a Chinese primary school, where he learnt to speak Cantonese and write Mandarin. It is this range of influences that he brought with him to his new eaterie in Camden, which emulates the style of a 1940s opium den. 

The name, Miusan, means new temple in Cantonese. A cocktail bar and nightclub further add to the venue’s hedonistic feel. 

Mr Singam said: “I have always been intrigued by the opium culture throughout the years, especially in its high-end society indulgence in Paris and New York. Disguised with holy shrines and surrounded by decadence and opulence, these discreet haunts were frequented by the bohemian high society.

“Miusan attempts to emulate this ‘culture’ of hedonism and glamour in a laid-back, up-beat Asian-themed restaurant/bar/club serving unpretentious, genuine Cantonese food and other Asian delicacies that we now commonly refer to as ‘Pan-Asian’.”

The food at Miusan is based on cuisine from the Canton province, he explains, but aims to put a twist on the classics – adding dried shrimps to pork belly, for example. 

Mongolian king prawns, are Mr Singam’s personal favourite on the menu. His own influences go way back to his childhood, when he first learned to cook at home. 

“I originate from Malaysia of Chinese descent and my mother was an amazing cook at home,” he said. “I spent a lot of hours in the kitchen as I was the only child and my mother was a gracious teacher.”

But Chinese food has changed a fair amount over the years, he explains. 

“Chinese food was all the rage in the 1970s with dishes growing in popularity and being adapted to the English palate along with an onslaught of numerous Chinese takeaways serving food that was essentially modified Chinese. 

“The 1980s saw the arrival of more high-end Chinese restaurants and some attaining Michelin star status with celebrity chefs brought in from all over the world. And these began to offer more authentic and genuine Chinese food for those who wanted the real McCoy. 

“The 1990s saw the proliferation of ‘dim sum’ venues and restaurants that redefined and refined the dim sum revolution. Thai cuisine saw daylight in the 1990s and the millennium brought in Vietnamese.” 

The newly opened Miusan, in Inverness Street, serves up a whole range of Cantonese food, combined with some Malaysian and Thai.

• Miusan, 16 Inverness Street, NW1 7HJ, 020 7424 9527, miusan.co.uk

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