London’s School of Wok Founder Jeremy Pang
Jeremy Pang is founder of School of Wok, an Asian specialist cookery school set in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. He and the School of Wok team also run the incredibly successful School of Wok YouTube channel, encouraging students from around the world to rock out with their wok out, right in their own home kitchen.
Jeremy approaches food as he approaches life; with gusto, curiosity and a sense of humour. From his cookery school, set up in 2012 and still going strong, to his cookbooks and weekly YouTube videos, he’s on a mission to convince everyone he meets to pick up a wok, have a laugh, and get cooking.
How would you describe your cooking style and the philosophy behind it? Do you have a personal motto?
I strongly advocate for real, home cooked Asian cuisine. I’m a big believer in learning core techniques of cooking. Once you have the basics, you can be as creative as you wish!
And, for me, if it tastes delicious – who cares whether it’s ‘authentic’ or not!
You attribute your love and curiosity for food and cooking to your late father; what sort of food or trends do you think he would be curious about today?
My dad used to laugh at “trends” but in his own unique way would know what was trendy before it became so. Before he passed he actually talked to me a lot about two types of restaurant/shops that he thought I should open. The first one was all about hand-pulled-noodles; bringing the theatrics of making them to the consumer here in London. Watching someone make hand pulled noodles is mesmerising, and definitely becoming more trendy outside of China. His other idea was to open a shop that only sells mushrooms – whether foraged or dried. He envisioned an ‘ old skool’ type of shop, the kind that still exist in China, but not so much here in the UK. Somehow he had pegged today’s foraging trend over ten years ago.
Which culinary trends are you currently inspired or influenced by? Any predictions on how these trends might develop in the future?
I hate to try to predict the future, but I can certainly analyse what I think is going on in the industry. Generally, restaurants are at the start of any sort of food trend – and I believe that gone are the days of stuffy, high end, Michelin star driven restaurants. The trend at the moment is sharing platters, food courts and street food vendors who specialise in a particular thing. Whether it’s vegan food from a specific cuisine (like Phung Kay for Chinese Vegan food), the best barbecue joint in town or seafood speciality restaurants, specialisation is the new trend and will only continue. And that’s a great thing for the industry; if every chef specialised in something specific, all our meals out would be great! Like the hawker centres of SE Asia!
As we continue to see an increase awareness and trendiness of sustainability; sourcing from smaller, specialised producers is becoming more important. Who are some of your local partners from whom you source?
Here are a few of our suppliers:
- See Woo in Chinatown London, where there is plenty of fresh Asian veg that is actually grown in the UK
- Bauer’s of London
The Village Butcher in Southfields – really good quality local meat. Their sausages are amazing! As is the shortrib for black pepper shortrib baos (recipe from my 2nd cookbook Hong Kong Diner) and their lamb neck fillet for slow cooked proper Indian and Malaysian curries.
Fish for Thought – sustainable fish off the Cornwall coast to your door – I serve their hand dived scallops steamed with garlic and vermicelli and make a miso glazed grilled mackerel when it’s in season.
How do you adapt local British ingredients into Asian dishes?
There’s no specific ‘way’ of doing this per say. My suggestion is to learn the basics and think about what textures work with what type of cooking technique. For instance, when cooked correctly, stir frying keeps ingredients crunchy and then succulent or slow cooking makes things melt in the mouth. Adaption is key!
What is the number one thing you want students to learn, when taking a class at School of Wok or watching your YouTube channel?
I want all of our students to really learn that cooking is thoroughly enjoyable. While it must also be creative, certain rules and techniques if broken down correctly will help you achieve great results! Most importantly I want people to have fun with the cooking tips we give, and not to take yourself too seriously in the kitchen!
What do you believe are the most misunderstood aspects of Chinese and Asian cuisine?
- That everything is stir-fried.
- MSG makes it taste better.
- That Chinese food is one type of cuisine.
- That Asian food must be ‘authentic’.
- That Chinese food is always quick to make.
What aspects of Chinese cuisine (or perhaps even culture) do you think have remained the same through out the years? What do you think has changed, adapted or moved on?
Ultimately traditional cooking techniques still prevail and always will. Although in the modern day Google era and and ease of flying, learning something new has become far more accessible. Chefs including myself are able to look up almost anything online that we don’t know and find a video of someone else half way across the world cooking that specific dish. It means we are able to adapt much quicker than we used to. Today there are very few cultural barriers to learning something new. Anyone can learn how to cook anything if we put our minds to it…
What would you do as a chef if money wasn’t an issue for a year?
I would go to Lanzhou to master the art of hand pulled noodles first. Then perhaps look for some old grannies around the world to teach me whatever they have been cooking all their lives. And I would definitely spend an ‘internship’ cooking on the streets of Hong Kong with the Dai Pai Dong chefs for a few months… if they would have me of course!
Name the top five spices we would find in your cupboards.
- Soy beans
- Fried shallots
- Dried chillies
What kitchen equipment do you use the most with your home cooking?
To be an innovative chef and teacher, it means asking for and being open to accepting honest feedback. To whom do you ask, and how do you balance giving your audience and students what they want with taking an innovative and unique approach?
Customers always think they know what they want, but I’m pretty sure after ten years of running School of Wok, that we know what they want too. My mum and my wife are my biggest and most trusted critics along with Nev, my business partner. But when it comes to food and innovation, I look to my mentors: people like my great uncle, or my Uncle Ken (both on my mums side), Chef Kampo (ex- Exec chef of Memories of China) or my good friend Victor Yu from Yu at Alderley Edge. Chef Daren Liew is also a brilliant go to who knows all things Chinese and Asian cuisine related… I call those guys “PROPER CHEFS”.
Generally speaking my ‘audience’ are often wowed by very simple things. Tips and tricks in the kitchen are often guarded in Chinese/Asian culture. It’s my job to get the word out and show people it’s not really that hard!
What new kitchen technologies do you think are worth the hype? Any that aren’t?
I like the idea of a Thermapen or a Thermomix for the precision that they offer. But when it comes to using them – they are just too clinical for me. I’m the kind of chef that likes to feel the cooking and just love being in the kitchen as I find it incredibly therapeutic. It’s a creative space that doesn’t require huge amounts of technology. Steam ovens however are genius inventions…
What location in the world would you most like to work as a chef?
I’m quite happy here in London – but perhaps somewhere by the sea? New Zealand?
What is your number one favourite street food from anywhere in the world?
Agghhh – too many to pick from! I’ll give you two:
Dai Pai Dongs in Hong Kong – A whole meal in Sing Kee (Central Hong Kong)? Yes please!
Kota Kinabalu – there’s one little satay place that just sticks in my mind (excuse the pun)
Thank you Jeremy!
Award winning Cookery School running classes ranging from Dim Sum to Authentic Chinese, Thai to Korean, as well as tasting tours of Chinatown.