A MOST UN­LIKELY COOK

A for­mer an­thro­pol­o­gist, who says cre­ativ­ity and flex­i­bil­ity are more im­por­tant than au­then­tic­ity, presents dozens of dishes from dif­fer­ent coun­tries in her lat­est book. re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

With vivid im­ages and de­scrip­tions of color, taste and smells, Tzu-i Chuang’s book of recipes Sim­ple, Sump­tu­ous, Sublime is an en­joy­able read. The book show­cases 84 dishes from dif­fer­ent cuisines, such as pick­led Chi­nese let­tuce stems, In­dian keema curry and Mediter­ranean style roast fish.

“There are also dishes cooked in a com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent styles,” she says in Bei­jing.

“Cook­ing food is more di­verse than the di­chotomy be­tween ‘Chi­nese’ and ‘West­ern’ cuisines.”

With each recipe, Chuang shares an es­sen­tial cook­ing tech­nique that can be ap­plied to other dishes, al­low­ing read­ers to cre­ate their own dishes.

“Rules can be bro­ken,” Chuang tells read­ers at a re­cent event.

“I think cre­ativ­ity and flex­i­bil­ity are more im­por­tant than the au­then­tic­ity of dishes.”

Chuang has some 170,000 fans on Chi­nese mi­cro blog Sina Weibo, where she shares her cook­ing.

Chuang, who was born in Tai­wan, had no plans to be­come a chef and food writer when she was grow­ing up.

In 2006, she was a PhD can­di­date in an­thro­pol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Washington in Seat­tle.

“Writ­ing a the­sis is tough work and it was mak­ing me de­pressed,” she says.

“Cook­ing was my only con­so­la­tion. I used to cook at home and in­vite friends over to eat and chat.”

Chuang then de­cided to move to Mas­sachusetts, to be with her hus­band who was at Har­vard Univer­sity then, and fin­ish her the­sis there.

One day, she passed by the Cam­bridge School of Culi­nary Arts, and saw stu­dents busy cook­ing.

“That was when I be­came aware that there is such a thing as a culi­nary school,” says Chuang.

She then ap­plied to join the school.

“I thought that I would try it (cook­ing) for a year. And if it didn’t work out I would go back to fin­ish my doc­toral stud­ies,” says Chuang. “But af­ter two weeks, I de­cided I would not go back.”

“At a party at Har­vard, when I told peo­ple I am a chef, they were like ‘that’s amaz­ing!’ ” she says. “Peo­ple can see your pas­sion when do­ing the thing you love and they feel happy for you.”

As an an­thro­pol­o­gist- turned-chef, Chuang wrote about her ex­pe­ri­ences on­line, and then pub­lished two books: An­thro­pol­o­gist in the Kitchen (2009) and Ev­ery­body Wants to Cook (2012).

Hong Kong writer Le­ung Man-tao in a rec­om­men­da­tion for her first book, says: “Chuang is not a be­trayer of an­thro­pol­ogy. She is a gourmet who fi­nally finds the kitchen, the place where she be­longs.”

In her books, Chuang sup­ports or­ganic farm­ing, eat­ing lo­cal sea­sonal food and re­duc­ing waste.

“It is not very good that young peo­ple do not know how to cook at home,” she says. “We need to go back to the kitchen.”

Chuang has been post­ing videos on how to cook on YouTube since 2013. And her videos have re­ceived tens of thou­sands of views, be­sides gain­ing her nearly 60,000 fol­low­ers.

As for fans, a young reader says at the event: “I learned to cook a lot of dishes by watch­ing your videos.

“I hope to see more videos from you be­cause they are a re­ally con­ve­nient way to learn cook­ing.”

Chuang, who has spent the past few years in Bos­ton, Shang­hai, Hong Kong, Washington and Jakarta with her hus­band Jim Mul­li­nax, a US diplo­mat, says that through cook­ing peo­ple can forge closer bonds with fam­ily and friends.

“Ev­ery­where I went, even if we were just spend­ing a year or two there, I dec­o­rated our house to make it homely. And made a lot of friends.”

Chuang says that when invit­ing friends home to eat, it is bet­ter to in­crease the quan­tity of each dish than to cook many dishes.

“So you can have the time to dress your­self, put on make-up and chat with friends. This is a more el­e­gant way to live.”

Chuang left Jakarta in June and is set to move to Chengdu, in Sichuan prov­ince, in Au­gust, where she hopes to dis­cover new things about food.

Cook­ing was my only con­so­la­tion. I used to cook at home and in­vite friends over to eat and chat.” Tzu-i Chuang, an­thro­pol­o­gist-turned-chef

Con­tact the writer at xingyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Zhou Yi­fan con­trib­uted to the story.

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