Kylie’s return to roots a recipe for success
SECOND-GENERATION Australian Kylie Kwong returns to the land of her ancestors in this nine-part series retracing the steps that led her greatgrandfather from a Cantonese village to Australia during the goldrush.
Tonight’s episode focuses on the southern city of Guangzhou in the Guangdong province ( formerly Canton), and the Sydney-based chef and author becomes the first descendant in 90 years to return to her ancestral home, Toishan.
Not content with pitching up to meet a village full of relatives she’s never clapped eyes on before, Kwong ( who speaks no Cantonese or Mandarin) decides to commandeer the village wok and whip up an Australian-influenced Chinese banquet for her family. No pressure, then.
All goes smoothly, though, as anybody who has dined at Kwong’s exquisite Surry Hills restaurant Billy Kwong will have predicted, and the assembled cousins, aunts and uncles tuck into her Chinese coleslaw, stirfried mushrooms with ginger and garlic, stir-fried bok choy with garlic, and roast suckling pig without incident. And without, of course, a hefty Sydney restaurant-sized bill.
Kwong is clearly moved by the visit in this episode, which is more travelogue than cookery show ( although recipes for the many dishes she prepares throughout the series can be found in the spin-off cookbook).
We see Kwong speaking with a village elder in Toishan about a centuries-old Kwong family tree, of which she has a branch, and this Sydney born and raised Aussie has a touching reunion with a long-lost Chinese cousin. Kwong finds an instant connection. ‘‘ We can’t speak each other’s language, but we actually don’t need
Aussie influence: Kylie Kwong draws a crowd as she prepares a meal in China to,’’ she says. In addition to Guangzhou, where the atmosphere is strange but so familiar, Kwong travels further afield in future episodes including to Hong Kong ( where she samples what would appear to be the world’s most glamorous dim sum), Beijing, Fujian province, Hangzhou, Tibet and more.
She trawls through markets and tiny laneway shops, samples meals in top Shanghai restaurants, picks up regional cooking skills and combines some of her favourite recipes with whatever ingredients are available.
She even has an arm-wrestle with a 60-year-old woman in Hangzhou for good measure.
At the heart of this colourful and evocative journey throughout China and Tibet is the premise of food and family, which are central to Chinese culture, and which resonate deeply with Kwong.
The journey back to her roots to research this series appears to have strengthened a sense of her own Chinese heritage.
‘‘ By retracing my great-grandfather’s footsteps I have learned a lot about this country and its food,’’ she says.
‘‘ Food and family are the cement of the culture. The ties still bind.’’