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Cactus Kitchens

Chinese New Year and the Original Wok Star

19 January 2016 14:00


No one does Chinese food better than Ken Hom. It is 30 years since Ken set the nation wokking and our love affair with the wok doesn’t show any sign of cooling.

Ken Hom is no flash in the pan. If you have a wok in your kitchen, chances are it’s got Ken Hom’s name on it. One in seven of us in the UK owns a Ken Hom wok and he continues to sell a whopping 300,000 woks annually. Stir-fries turn up on most families’ midweek menus and a wok is at the top every new student’s kitchen kit list. And that’s all down to Ken Hom.

Britons are now some of Europe’s most adventurous eaters, but when Ken, armed with a wok, first appeared on our screens 30 years ago to share the delights of Chinese food and introduce us to the pleasures of stir frying, he was leading us into unchartered territory.

That was back in 1985. The accompanying BBC book of the series, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cooking, broke publishing records and remains the go-to reference book and culinary bible. No doubt about it, Ken and his wok had captured our collective imaginations. Today Ken’s name is synonymous with Chinese food. His enthusiasm is boundless. He has never stopped exploring the vast landscape of Chinese cuisine and he continues to make new discoveries.

Ken learned the transformative powers of the wok at an early age. Raised by his widowed mother in Chicago’s Chinatown, there was little money for luxuries. Despite the paucity of ingredients (a small piece of dried salted fish eked out over several weeks, cabbage, garlic, rice) and equipped with only a wok and a cleaver his mother worked magic in the kitchen.

With culinary sleight of hand, each day she conjured up appetising and tasty meals from her trusty wok. Ken remembers that she always cooked food in a way that was fun to eat. There was rice with a toasty crust underneath (fried in groundnut oil and salt) so it tasted like popcorn and fresh cabbage stir fried in garlic. Feast or famine, the wok endures thanks to its simplicity, versatility and speed.

Some food historians have suggested the wok was invented to preserve scarce amounts of fuel, or to create a wide variety of dishes with limited ingredients. As Ken’s mother knew, the wok’s ability to make simple ingredients sizzle with flavour makes it a one-pan wonder.

And a wok isn’t just for stir frying. It is equally handy for blanching, deep frying and steaming. Its deep sides stop food and oil spilling overboard and thanks to its shape heat concentrates in the base so that much less oil is required than in conventional cooking.

Ken is a regular visitor to Cactus Kitchens. Besides being a star turn on the set of BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen (where he is affectionately described by his fellow chefs as half-man half wok), Ken hosts a hugely popular annual and exclusive cooking masterclass at The Michel Roux Jr Cookery School.
Set to coincide with the start of the Chinese New Year, Ken will share his unrivalled talent and encyclopedic knowledge of China’s culinary heritage in an intimate class on Sunday 7 February.

Ken will be celebrating the Year of the Monkey
Sunday 7 February 2016 at The Michel Roux Jr Cookery School.
Full Day cookery course with Ken Hom. £445pp to include a Ken Hom Performance 2 piece wok set (RRP £62.99)
Limited and exclusive class for only 12 people.
Book online or call 020 7091 4800.

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Press Contacts

Anna Ratcliffe


Tel: 020 7091 4800

About Cactus Kitchens

Cactus Kitchens, home of the Michel Roux Jr Cookery School. Offering an array of unique cooking classes in London including the Saturday Kitchen Experience.

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