WHO IS MISS CHANGY
THOMAS HEATON MEETS A MAKER WHOSE ART HAS FOOD FIRMLY AT ITS HEART.
Thomas Heaton meets a maker for whom food and art are intimately connected
THE NAME MISS CHANGY inspires thoughts of antiquated oriental stereotypes, but it’s a titbit of satire, Ruby Chang-Jet White says. “It doubles as a Western appropriation of my own name, in reference to my ‘halfness’. But also aims to poke a stick at internalised racism towards ‘Asians’.
“A lot of people don’t really question it. When they do, they’ve either assumed it to be my name or I’m making an offensive joke: semi-correct both ways.”
White, 24, was born in Australia, where she was raised by her Australian father and Malaysian-Chinese mother, and moved to Auckland when she was 17. Despite being born and raised either side of the ditch, she’s had a fascination with her mother’s side of the family. It’s one that runs rich with food and culture.
Recently White has been actively pursuing those roots, spending five months travelling across Asia. There was one place in particular she had to visit: Miri, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.
“Malaysian culture in general, I really love. I love the people, I love the food. It was colonised by the British so there’s all these old colonial buildings with this amazing Chinese-Malay aesthetic. Thinking about it, maybe I like it so much because I can relate to it on some level?”
In Miri she delved into the art of creating traditional noodles, which her family has been feeding the city with for 80 years. She has brought home to New Zealand what she learned from her family, but her take is inevitably going to be a little different.
“I just enjoy anything to do with food, really. I try to use dishes from Sarawak, where my mum’s family is from, as a base for ideas. Although I’m pretty open.”
A graduate of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, White brings an artistic eye and guerilla sort of attitude to both food and ceramics – which ended up being part of her final year’s study. She decided to host pop-up dinners at her home, eventually finding cafes to host them, serving up to 80 people.
Her ceramics, which have featured in a couple of issues of Cuisine – including this one – developed from her love of food. Not so much out of necessity, but out of curiosity and respect.
She wants the integrity of the food to permeate everything she does.
“I wanted to make handmade food, and put it on handmade plates,” she says. “I want to avoid using disposable things everywhere I can.”
She’s also been making her own chopsticks and stainless-steel bubble tea straws and is planning on forging her own spoons. Plus, she’s created her own take on classic Chinese rooster bowls, which are more often churned out in factories these days.
By day White, who has no formal culinary training, works with Best Ugly Bagels and The Lucky Taco, where she’s been picking up a lot of good experience.
“I really like working with my hands, and I find it funny to go from making bread to ceramics in the same day... the processes in the kitchen and my studio overlap a lot. It’s strangely satisfying.”
She wants to start doing her own thing one day; a small hole-in-the-wall selling noodles alongside her ceramics.
When Cuisine spoke to White she was gearing up to sell her ceramics at the Auckland Fair on December 4. Her latest range of plates are marbled brown and white, irregular and interesting.