Parenting and being a chef are similar in certain ways. You might feel pressured to cook something fresh every day when your kids are “starving and need to eat now”, but chefs deal with that situation all the time. What if a chef happens to be a parent? We wonder what super powers it takes to deal with both picky kids and picky customers. Our blog series Chef Papa and Chef Mama finds out.
Hong Kong Chef Ku Chi Fai arrived in Beijing five years ago with his family. The 51-year-old dad now works as the Executive Chinese Chef with the Ritz-Carlton Beijing. Ku started his career as a chef at the tender age of 16, about the same age as his son, Langyan (15), a student at Beijing No.80 Middle School. Langyan’s mom Qin Liying is a full-time housewife and his sister Xueying (21) studies in Canada.
We recently met up Chef Ku at Ritz-Carlton Beijing to discover Ku’s double role as beloved parent and respected chef.
What types of cuisine do you specialize in?
Cantonese, the one and only cuisine I am good at.
Have your cooking habits changed since you become a parent?
Yes. As a parent, I respect my job more because I need it to support my family.
How has your family influenced your cooking?
I learned to listen to other people’s opinions, including young people and children.
What is your first food memory when you were a kid?
When I was young, all the Cantonese families would make lawei (preserved meat) in winter. Although available year round now, preserved meat used to be a winter treat. Simply seasoned with salt and liquor, the duck naturally became perfect in the north wind and cold dry air. I have had preserved meat all over the world, but none compares with the old taste.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a chef?
Chefs work long hours, including weekends and holidays, so we have less time to spend with our families. One good thing is that we can bring home quality ingredients and healthy ways to cook.
What’s in your fridge at home now?
Almost nothing. We buy fresh ingredients from the market before we cook.
Do you have some sort of pantry essentials at home to whip up handy, healthy and tasty meals when the kids are hungry?
I used to make quick meal with oatmeal, corn flakes, egg and milk when my children were young.
Do you have a guilty-secret ingredient at home — something you’d rather not be spotted using?
Instant noodles, but my son loves them!
What home-cooked meal has wowed your family recently?
Every time I make Cantonese-style preserved meat.
How do you deal with picky kids and picky customers?
Most kids don’t like vegetables and soups when they are young. It’s normal, but if you take chance to educate them often, they will understand the benefits as they grow older. For picky customers, we make the dish exactly the way they expect.
Where do you shop for fresh products in Beijing?
Xinyuanli Market and BHG
When you have the opportunity to spend a day with your children, what do you do?
We watch a movie, eat buffet at a hotel and take the dog to Chaoyang Park’s dog pool. My son loves buffets because they have everything.
Interviewed and translated by Clemence Jiang.
Photos: courtesy of Emily Wu (Ritz-Carlton Beijing)