WHO IS MISS CHANGY

THOMAS HEATON MEETS A MAKER WHOSE ART HAS FOOD FIRMLY AT ITS HEART.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Pho­tog­ra­phy Ja­son Creaghan & Ruby White in­sta­gram.com/miss­changy

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.

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