Interview with TV Chef Kylie Kwong
F&W talks to Kylie Kwong, host of the Discovery Channel's Kylie Kwong: Heart and Soul and Kylie Kwong: Simply Magic.
What was your first big break on TV? How were you discovered?
"Back in October 2002, I was just working in the restaurant [Billy Kwong in Sydney, Australia] as I did each day, trying to keep 400 things on the go, when the phone rang and it was the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. They said, 'Listen, would you be interested in having a meeting? We're looking for a new television presenter for next year's cooking series.' I don't even have a TV. I still don't have a TV; I don't watch TV. I had no intention of doing TV at all, but I just said, 'Okay, I'll have a meeting,' because I thought, New experience; it will be interesting to see what they have to say. Can't hurt. So I had a meeting with them the following week, and I was instantly taken with them, because they mentioned that they wanted to do a TV series with a difference. They wanted to do something that was multicultural Australia. And when they said that, I thought, I've got a lot of things to say about that, and it will be television with substance. So the fact that they said multicultural made me think, Well, that's really great, because I'm an Australian-born Chinese. I thought that would be interesting content. I had a lot to say about it. And then the next thing you know, I'm signing contracts, we're shooting the show, and then it went to air the following year."
Is there a large population of Chinese people in Australia?
"There are a lot of Chinese people in Australia, dotted all around the place. There is a very big Chinese influence here—very much in the food. There's so much Asian food in Australia. The Kwongs, my family, are the largest Chinese family in Australia. I'm 29th-generation Kwong, and I'm fifth-generation Australian. My parents were born here, so we're more Australian than many Australians. The whole Kwong story is in my book [Heart and Soul]. It's about my great-great-grandfather. He came to Australia in the gold-rush days. He had four Chinese wives and 24 children. And that's where I come from."
How did you end up on the Discovery Channel?
"We shot Series 1, which was called Heart and Soul, directly with the ABC. Then the second year, the Discovery Channel and the ABC went halves, basically, and got me to do another show. That's how I got on the Discovery Channel. It's on the Lifestyle Channel over here, then it gets sold to Discovery and all that. It's on Discovery and whatever all over the world."
What are some of the best recipes you've made on-air, and why?
"Mrs. Jang's Homestyle Fried Eggs, which you see in the first show, Heart and Soul. Mrs. Jang is my uncle's mother. I did that in the first show and everyone loves it. It's basically just fresh eggs dropped into a wok of oil, fried until they're crunchy on the outside, a bit gooey in the middle, and then sprinkled with oyster sauce or soy sauce with chiles and shallots—it's really good hangover food. You just crack eggs into a bowl. You don't whisk them or anything, and then you heat oil up in a wok until it's really hot and then you just pour in four eggs that are cracked—you just pour them straight in and it all fluffs up like this big omelet. You don't whisk it up though, it's like Chinese fried eggs. That was one recipe that got talked about a lot. So that one went down well, and also one of the fried rice recipes. The secret to good fried rice is you've got to cook the eggs first. You make an egg omelet, and then you take the egg out of the wok. Then I stir-fry onions and bacon and ginger and all the aromatics, then I put the rice in and the soy, then I put the eggs in after, so you have all these fluffy eggs through it. Everyone loves fried rice. And the noodle recipes are always good, too."
What distinguishes you from other TV chefs?
"The show is visually rich and intense—it's very, very visual. And that's because my favorite subjects in life are art and creativity. I'm very artistic, and I love beautiful colors; I just love beautiful things. I'm a complete sensualist, and I love stuff—iI'm not a minimalist. For example, when you see my show, they built the kitchen on the studio set like my kitchen at home. I took all of my objects out of my kitchen at home and into the studio, so there are paintings, there are flowers, there are pots everywhere—it's a real sort of mishmash of art and everything. A lot of people have commented on that—that it's very visually appealing. When I'm in front of that camera, I only ever talk about things that I'm really interested in. It's all off the cuff, ad-libbed—I don't do scripts, so it's all about food that I love to cook and my passion, so hopefully, that's what comes across on the screen. The cooking is quite vibrant. There's mustard, garlic and chiles. There's my Uncle Jimmy's noodles, and there are shots in the back streets of Shanghai and Hong Kong. We try to make it quite textured and layered."