I’ve been extremely lucky to have done a lot of cool things in my life, traveling the world over from the age of 5, eating in some of the world’s best restaurants, and fulfilling a lot of personal goals and aspirations along the way.
But nothing was quite as impactful as this past February, when I flew to Chengdu to join a film crew on the set of Ching He Huang and Ken Hom’s “Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure”. I was initially contacted by the producers to help with the planning of the Sichuan episode, but the more we talked the more they liked the story of my family in Chengdu, and so we became a major part of the script.
Growing up in the West, I never felt as connected to my family back home. All the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins were a warm set of faces and names that I got to know around a dinner table over important holidays, like Spring Festival, or Mid Autumn festival, only to fade into the background when we got on a plane to head back to Germany, or England, or wherever else we were living at the time.
I wasn’t really Western, I spoke only Sichuan dialect at home, and found my identity in being Chinese, but whenever I came to China, I was reminded of all the ways in which I was different, in my speech, my looks (evidently a diet of dairy and meat makes one ‘bigger boned’), my attitude and outlook.
Over the years, Chengdu has transformed, my grandparents have aged, and I’ve grown comfortable straddling a multiplicitous rope of cultural identity. One thing that has remained constant though, is the food, and the way that a perfect meal can bring us all together around a table.
Which is exactly what we wanted to illustrate in the Sichuan episode of this show.
I invited Ken and Ching into my grandparents home in Guanghan, where they cooked with my aunt and grandmother, and sat down to enjoy a meal with my entire family. It was wonderful, intimate, moving- when Ching got teary eyed that my grandmother reminded her of hers who recently passed away, I couldn’t help it, I started bawling as well.
I grew closer to my family in this few days than I ever felt my entire life, and I think they felt the same. The look of pride on their faces as my grandmother showed off her pickles, or when my aunt demonstrated her cooking technique. Their pride in me, for bringing an international film crew to Guanghan (the first time this has ever happened), pursuing my passion of elevating Sichuan food and bringing it to the world stage. It was irreplaceable.
Without further ado, please enjoy, and let me know what you think of the episode