A few years back, my visit as a special alumnus to my alma mater, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana was most unforgettable. My weeklong stay not only included book signings, interviews and parties, but most enjoyable, a reception to meet with my dear host family, former classmates and a favorite professor. I was so touched that just a few lines in my cookbook-to express my gratitude for the scholarship they granted me years ago-would mean so much to them. Later on, the school even sent an article about me to Amazon to help promote my cookbook.
What are the advantages of Chinese home cooking as opposed to restaurant cooking?
Restaurant dishes are usually served banquet style, and are prepared in a very short time. To achieve an intense flavor, the chefs must deep-fry most of the ingredients. Because of the time constraints and profit concerns, only a small selection of vegetables are included. On the other hand, the merit of home cooking is having the opportunity to taste a wonderful variety of vegetables and tofu products. IF the home cook is skillful, each dish would have its own distinctive taste. For example, once tasted, many guests fall in love with my lotus dish. Friends are also amazed how I have made American red cabbage so utterly tasty by using Chinese techniques and spices. These dishes are seldom found in Restaurants. In addition, many Chinese restaurants have their own regional flavors. But in home cooking, a lot of cooks embrace regional flavors of all kinds and blend them nicely. This is what makes home cooking so interesting.
How did you become a good cook?
I was born into a family where everyone loved good food, and my mother was my real inspiration. She was an extremely hospitable woman who found great pleasure in reaching out to people with her tasty food. But I did not need to cook every day until I came to this country in the late 60s as a graduate student. Then cooking became a serious task when my husband and I settled down in New York in the 70s. My husband has always been a very fussy eater who wouldn’t touch anything that didn’t look or taste good. Luckily, he’s a great help when it comes to cleaning and doing dishes, and that’s a real plus when we entertain. We both always enjoyed entertaining and going to food events, which also helped to upgrade my cooking skills. The funny thing is, I not only cook for my guests when they visit us, but sometimes when I visit someone who is not a cook, or it’s not convenient to find a good restaurant, I’ll end up taking over the cooking job and feeding the whole clan. To me, it’s a great feeling to have a skill such as cooking that can fill one of the basic needs in life.