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The UK’s Telegraph travel magazine recently interviewed celebrity chef Ken Hom. Ken is an American born Chinese chef, author and television show presenter for the BBC. He was appointed honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to culinary arts.
In an interview with the Telegraph in the UK, when asked where his most relaxing city was he said Bangkok and enjoy its close proximity to Samui and Phuket. Here is the interview.
How often do you travel?
I’m on the road about six months out of the year. The only time I’m really not travelling is in July and August, when I’m in my home in south-west France and that is a great relief. I’m based in both France and Thailand, so I commute between the two.
I was recently in Rio de Janeiro, preparing for the launch of my new restaurant at the Copacabana Palace hotel which opens next month. But I’ve also been to Hong Kong, China, Dubai and Gibraltar recently. My work is also my pleasure so my trips abroad are always for a combination of reasons, whether it is to see friends or just to learn and discover new things. In many ways my life is just one big holiday really.
When I travel with friends, we like to divide up the tasks among the group according to their expertise. I do the planning around food. Another friend is a wine expert, so he picks out all of the drinks we’re going to have. Another friend is in charge of the cultural things such as museums. And we have someone in charge of shopping.
What do you need for a perfect holiday?
Rio de Janeiro. I love the mixture of people. It’s a city I’ve been visiting for nearly 14 years now and have made a lot of friends there. It’s not too big, so it’s very manageable, which I like as well. The beaches, such as Ipanema, are my favourite part. They have such a lovely atmosphere. You can hear children running around and squealing when they first go into the cold water.
Favourite city in the US?
Definitely San Francisco. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the States. It has great restaurants, wonderful people, and I lived in the area for many years so I have a lot of connections there, especially chef friends. The Chinatown area is absolutely wonderful. I also love Berkeley, California where people follow a very relaxed lifestyle which I love very much. And I love the mixture of cultures you find there, from Latino to Asian influences – it’s just one big pot.
Favourite restaurant in the world?
One is Yan Toh Heen in Hong Kong. The chef there, Lau, makes some of the best food in the world. The other is Olympe in Rio de Janeiro, headed by the French chef Claude Troisgros, who’s lived in Brazil for around 35 years. I love the way he mixes Brazilian ingredients, such as things from the Amazon, with classic French cooking techniques – it’s just brilliant. You get delirious from the taste that dances around in your mouth. Brazil has very tropical ingredients that are very different from anywhere else in the world, but Claude has managed to integrate all of that to create wonderful food. I learn something every time I eat there.
London, simply because there’s so much of everything there these days. I’m always flabbergasted by the range of restaurants that open in London, from Hunan to Afghanistan and Turkish, it’s like visiting the United Nations. London has some of the most eclectic food in the world, even more than New York
Best place for Chinese cuisine?
Outside of mainland China, without a doubt, Hong Kong (and it’s not because I’m Cantonese!). Hong Kong is such a cosmopolitan and very international city yet it still retains its Chinese character. The Chinese cuisine there reaches peaks that you don’t see anywhere else in the world.
But the next best place is London, believe it or not and I think it might be because a lot of the chefs there come from Hong Kong. Every time I go to London I eat at A.Wong in Victoria. Andrew Wong is a young chap doing great Chinese food in London at the moment. There’s always a queue but it’s worth going. Shanghai Blues and Royal China are also good.
I love coming to London for Chinese New Year because there’s always so many great restaurants to choose from and I don’t have cook! I’d rather go out to eat to celebrate New Year.
Favourite part of China?
Guangzhou because I speak Cantonese. It’s fascinating to be in a city where everybody is like you and speaks like you. And also because I love Cantonese food.
Most memorable meal abroad?
In Kyoto, Japan, a friend of mine took me out for a vegetarian meal at a temple restaurant. There was just the three of us – my friend, myself and the chef, who just kept cooking exclusively for us as we sat there and it was the most wonderful food you could imagine! I was so blown away especially because I’m not vegetarian and also don’t really like pumpkin, which was featured in one of the dishes. But this food was just so incredible. He cooked all afternoon for us while we ate and drank a lot of sake. I don’t normally go to vegetarian restaurants – I like vegetables but not to that point. So I am really impressed when vegetarian food is really extraordinary.
Bangkok. It’s a big city but the people are so mellow, always smiling and everything is easy-going. There is none of the stress you would get in most big cities such as New York or even Hong Kong. And the food is fantastic. It’s such a relaxing place and it’s nice to go to a place like that because it makes you relax. And Bangkok is so well-connected, you could easily get to the popular beach destinations like Phuket or Koh Samui as well.
The Dorchester in London, which I’ve been going to for 25 years now, so it’s really like my home in London. I love it. The service is what stands out the most. It’s one of those hotels where the people have been working there for years and they know everything about you, what you like and what you don’t like.
I like the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro because it’s very old-fashioned and I love that. They staff are also friendly and really make everyone feel at home. I also love The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok but don’t go as often as I have a home in the city now.
The most remote place you’ve been?
I went to see snow monkeys sitting in volcanic hot waters in Nagano, Japan and that was quite a sight to see. I had to take a bullet train to Nagano and then take a smaller suburban train into the mountains, which was a long and hard journey. But once you got there, it was worth it.
I also went swimming and snorkelling once near the mouth of the volcano in Bora Bora which was incredible.
Worst travel experience?
Flying in the States in general. The airport security measures are over the top and I find it to be really dreadful. And airline customer service can be quite bad. One time I asked for water on a plane and I was told “Sorry honey, you’re gonna have to wait”. It’s so unprofessional and just plain rude to talk to a passenger that way.
Thai Airways. The cabin crew are friendly, sweet, accommodating and always smiling at you. Travelling is so stressful but they manage to make it so unstressful. The food tends to be very good as well, especially if it’s Asian food, which I think is great for an airline. The best plane food I’ve had was just simple Asian noodles with broth (and a sprinkle of my own chilli oil which I always travel with). It’s light, satisfying and perfect for a flight. Even a lot of non-Asian airlines offer it on board as well if you ask for it.
Best piece of travel advice?
Fly on a good airline, stay in a decent hotel, and you need to do your homework on researching your destination so that you make the most of your time and don’t waste any of it.
What do you hate about holidays?
It ends too quickly. I never have my mobile phone on during a holiday and check my email as little as possible. We need to unplug from all of that stuff.
Next month I’m going to Hokkaido, Japan with friends to eat sea urchin. I’ve never been to that part of the country but I’ve heard Hokkaido has some of the best sea urchins in the world. After that, we head to Tokyo.
I’d also love to go to India. It has such a deep rich culture and history, very similar to China in many ways. I’m interested in Buddhism so I’d like to see the place where it originated and I want to eat really good Indian food in situ.