Kwanghi Chan has worked his way up, from cooking at his family restaurant to helming one Michelin-starred The House Restaurant. He shares with Victoria Lim his next goal – to create a sauce empire.
Kwanghi Chan of Chanchan
The sun sets and Kwanghi Chan is off to Chinatown on Capel Street. There, the 41-year-old sits with his family at a roadside store, tucking into a bowl of gan yi mian (Tainan noodles with ground pork) unnoticed in a crowd of locals and travellers. It’s impossible to guess that this man has led the Irish culinary team to win a silver medal in Culinary Olympics 2008, the lauréat of the highly competitive Le Grand Prix de Cuisine de l’academie Paris 2014, and is, presently, one of Ireland most soughtafter chefs. His Irish-chinese sauce business, Chanchan, has also won many fans.
As a child, Chan would often shadow his uncles in his family restaurant to try and glean kitchen skills from them. It was only when he was 13 did his uncles allow him to use the wok. There his love for cooking grew. Despite Chan’s Chinese background, he chose to study French cuisine in Killybegs Catering College. “I was intrigued by the finesse of how the French prepare their dishes. Watching the programmes on Cooking Channel, I was always in awe of how different the French culinary techniques were compared to the skills I’ve picked up in our Chinese restaurant,” shares Chan.
Chan went on to stage at several one Michelin-starred restaurants in Dublin, such as Chapter One Restaurant, The Commons and L’ecrivan before he became the head chef at The Ice House Hotel Ballina, where he maintained the two AA Rosette Award. He led the team at one Michelin-starred and four AA Rosettes, The House Restaurant from 2011 to 2014 before setting up his own restaurant in Dublin. Chan wanted a platform where he could marry his French skills, Irish cuisine and the familiar flavours from his birthplace, Hong Kong. It was during the cold November winter in 2014 that Soder + Ko was born. It went on to be the most talked about hotspot for young Irish foodies, serving up contemporary Chinese plates with a hint of Irish flavours like Won Ton Soup with housemade consomme and pork and ginger won tons. And it was through Soder+ko that Chan was inspired to start Chanchan as he saw a rising demand for Chinese flavoured sauces. How would you describe Irish cuisine?
It’s all about using the local ingredients. Ireland has some of the world’s best seafood, as we are an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from the fact that we have an abundance of seafood and seaweed, our land is flourishing with loads of local farms and fields with the best grass which cows and sheep graze on - giving us the best dairy, cream, butter, cheese and meat. We are very much in a culinary revolution with some very bright chefs in this country pushing the boundaries and taking advantage of the local produce from artisan producers in Ireland.
How do you reconcile or combine the flavours of Irish and Chinese cuisines?
I would like to use ingredients from the Irish larder and combine them with Chinese flavours that I’m used to in Hong Kong or from my childhood. Take the local razor clam, which I slow-cook with miso paste at 52°C for five minutes. A fermented black bean and chilli dressing is served with vinegary glass noodles and some traditional crunchy Irish puffed barley. The result is an Irish-chinese fusion dish.
Tell us more about Chanchan.
I started Chanchan at the end of 2015 to bring creative artisanal Irish/asian condiments that people can add to the cooking. Chinese food in Ireland needs to be changed and the flavours are not always the norm. Like a chicken curry or a beef chop suey. These are dishes designed in the U.S. and worked very well back then. We are more well-travelled now and things are changing. More people are looking for authentic Chinese food in modern Ireland.
Although we supply Chanchan to around 550 supermarket stores in Ireland, we are still a small artisan company. We make everything by hand, including the bottle labels. It’s important to have that identity. We produce our own black garlic products in Ireland and also grow Japanese shiso plants in a local organic allotment for new products like vinegars. We have around eight
“I was intrigued by the finesse of how the French prepare their dishes. Watching the programmes on Cooking Channel, I was always in awe of how different the French culinary techniques were compared to the skills I’ve picked up in our Chinese restaurant.”
products in our portfolio that are sold at retail and to the food industry. They give people the base of Chinese flavours and help them to cook and be more creative.
How would you like to change Chinese food in Ireland, apart from your sauces?
I would like to challenge the Chinese community and restaurants to cook better and make what they like - from home-cooked food to the dishes they ate in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. This will level the playing field and will stop the opening of more cheap buffets, which lowers the value of our food and culture. We are a country with 14 international borders and every region has its own culinary heritage, so it is now time to up our game and show the Western world that we don’t just eat beef curry and sweet and sour chicken.
I have to say it’s getting better and better each year as a lot more folks from the Chinese community are creating little food concepts, such as authentic Korean, Japanese, Chinese hot pot places which are popping up all over the city at the moment. It’s great to see how we have moved on and it shows that the Irish palate is ready for it.
Name your favourite Irish ingredients and the interesting or unexpected ways to use them.
In Ireland we have some of the best beef in the world. I want to use this with our Chanchan Korean spice seasoning. The spice itself contains garlic, ginger, Chinese cassia, cloves, Korean hot pepper, sesame and Szechuan pepper. I will rub the spice on the tomahawk steak for an hour and after the rub, wrap in cling film, and place it on hot charcoal ambers for an hour. The result? A crisp flavour on the outside with a bit of smokiness from the coals. Then place the rack on a barbecue for another five minutes, season it with Chanchan’s Black Garlic Paste (100 percent hand peeled black garlic mashed in a mortar and pestle), slice the steak and serve it with a bowl of rice noodles.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to open my next food concept in Dublin in a few months’ time. My main focus for the next few years will be to build the Chanchan brand in the retail and food industry. I also aim to e publish my new cookbook on sauces in 2019.
Chicken salads tossed with Chanchan’s Purple Shiso Infused Vinegar Grilled Chicken with Hong Kong Street Sauce and Black Garlic Puree
The Hong Kong Street Sauce range Hong Kong Style Chicken and Noodles in Street Sauce Broth