Hong Kong chef Chan Kwanghi is on a mission – to revolutionise the Chinese food of Ireland, the country where he has lived for nearly 40 years, with more authentic flavors.
One of the most famous chefs in Ireland, Chan has represented the country at international events. In 2008, he won the silver medal at the Germany Culinary Olympics and, in 2014, the Laureat of Le Grand Prix de Cuisine de l’Academie Paris.
Having spent most of his career preparing continental food, he has decided now to bring the best tastes and recipes of his native Hong Kong to his adopted country, because the Irish consumer is ready for this transformation.
“Many Chinese restaurants cook a dumbed-down European version of Chinese food, but, in the back room, we eat lovely food for our own dinners,” he said. “Irish people are more travelled and love good food more than before. Their eating habits have changed so much that we are going into a food revolution in Ireland.”
The Irish Tourism Board lists 443 Chinese restaurants across the country, including 97 in the capital Dublin. While a small number are for connoisseurs, most serve take-aways and fast food. The majority of Irish people know little of the variety and sophistication of Chinese cuisine. That is what Chan plans to change. With a Chinese-American food writer, in 2016, he launched Slaint-Chi (想喫); slaint means ‘good health’ in Irish.
“We want to bring the true flavors of Chinese food to Ireland,” he said. “In the past five-10 years, more and more people have travelled to China and are looking for authentic flavors. Through education and communication, we hope chefs will be confident to cook it in their own authentic dishes in their restaurants,” he said.
Through a website, a book and personal visits, Chan and his writer friend Mei Chin aim to persuade Chinese chefs across the country to improve their menus and to persuade consumers to order better and more sophisticated dishes.
He does a weekly cooking programme on TV3, a national channel, during the 6 p.m. prime time slot. “I emphasise simple Chinese cooking that people can make at home. I also do many national cookery demonstrations in food festivals all over the country with my ChanChan products, showing people that you can make simple meals in minutes with my Asian-inspired sauces and spices.”
In 2015, he founded ChanChan Hong Kong Street Food Sauces in Dublin. It creates and produces spices and condiments that connect Irish food with Asian flavours. “I go back to Hong Kong every year and I love the street food. Every piece of street food comes with a sauce. You choose between five or six different ones.” ChanChan sells its products to retail shops, supermarkets and restaurants in Dublin and other cities.
“In the past few years, I have been travelling a lot. Eating street food in Hong Kong and Japan, then coming back to Ireland, I have created my own version of modern European fusion with Southeast Asian flavors that I have tasted in the East,” he said. He has many cousins and other family members living in Hong Kong.
Born in Hong Kong, Chan moved to Ireland in 1988 at the age of eight to live with his uncle in Buncrana, then population of 4,500 and today around 6,000, in County Donegal in the far northwest on the Atlantic Ocean; his uncle ran a Chinese takeaway and restaurant, the only one in the town. “At the start, it was very hard to get people to try Chinese food for the first time. The Irish had a very basic diet – potatoes, meat and vegetables.”
Buncrana has beautiful beaches, shorelines and rolling fields – but snow and temperatures as low as two degrees Celsius in winter.
Chan’s childhood was divided between the local school and working in the family restaurant – preparing rice, cutting vegetables and washing dishes.
“By the age of 13, I was in charge of cooking all the dishes on a three-wok stove. Local produce was excellent, arriving fresh from the farm,” he said.
In 1996, he was accepted into a French catering college in a nearby town where he graduated three years later. Then he worked in some of the best restaurants in the country, under leading chefs.
At the same time, he earned a B.Sc in International Culinary Arts by TVU London. For three and a half years, he was head chef in a Michelin-star restaurant which offered modern European cuisine with fresh seasonal Irish produce.
What food does he make at home for his Irish wife Michelle and their four-year-old daughter Lily? “The food I like to cook at home is very simple and easy, using fresh Irish local ingredients, like a wok stir fry, steamed fish and roast meats. I also love a good Irish farmhouse cheese board with wheaten crackers. Lily likes to eat dim sum, rice and noodles.”
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