My life through a lens: TV chef Ken Hom, 72, shares the stories behind his favorite snaps

My Life Through a Lens: Legendary TV Chef Ken Hom, 72, Shares the Stories Behind His Favorite Snaps










Celebrities share the stories behind their favorite photos. This week it’s legendary TV chef Ken Hom, 72

Legendary TV chef Ken Hom, 72, shared the stories behind a selection of his favorite snaps

1954: I was born in Tucson, Arizona, but after my father died when I was eight months old, my mother Ying Fong and I moved to Chicago, where we lived in a one-bedroom apartment on a block in the Chinatown neighborhood.  Here I am, about five years old, with her.  I was always a skinny kid.  My mother was the anchor in my life, my rock in the surf.  She was a single mother who raised me courageously.  She never spoke English

1954: I was born in Tucson, Arizona, but after my father died when I was eight months old, my mother Ying Fong and I moved to Chicago, where we lived in a one-bedroom apartment on a block in the Chinatown neighborhood. Here I am, about five years old, with her. I was always a skinny kid. My mother was the anchor in my life, my rock in the surf. She was a single mother who raised me courageously. She never spoke English

1971: When you're young, you're very idealistic, and this photo is from when I was a flower kid in California, a hippie.  I studied art history at the University of California because I wanted to get away from food—I'd worked at my Uncle Paul's Chicago restaurant from age 11 to 16.  I also traveled a bit, to France and Italy

1971: When you’re young, you’re very idealistic, and this photo is from when I was a flower kid in California, a hippie. I studied art history at the University of California because I wanted to get away from food—I’d worked at my Uncle Paul’s Chicago restaurant from age 11 to 16. I also traveled a bit, to France and Italy

1983: Hong Kong was a fantastic discovery and felt like home to me when I first came in 1980 – this is me [second right] with some of my extended family there.  I started spending time in Hong Kong every year teaching cooking classes, then the BBC auditioned for a new series on Chinese cooking, some of which would be filmed on location there - a novelty at the time.  They had been looking for a presenter for two years.  The producer had been working on a show with Madhur Jaffrey and Madhur had introduced me

1983: Hong Kong was a fantastic discovery and felt like home to me when I first came in 1980 – this is me [second right] with some of my extended family there. I started spending time in Hong Kong every year teaching cooking classes, then the BBC auditioned for a new series on Chinese cooking, some of which would be filmed on location there – a novelty at the time. They had been looking for a presenter for two years. The producer had been working on a show with Madhur Jaffrey and Madhur had introduced me

1995: This was a recording from my second BBC series.  I was so traumatized by the first that I couldn't do another for over ten years.  I just thought it wasn't my thing, but the BBC convinced me to do something else.  This one, Ken Hom's Hot Wok, allowed me to cook outside, not just in a studio.  One of the people who agreed was John Cleese, who is here eating my crispy vegetable packets.  I was always a fan of John Cleese, especially after Fawlty Towers.  Being in the food and hospitality industry I thought that show was so brilliant

1995: This was a recording from my second BBC series. I was so traumatized by the first that I couldn’t do another for over ten years. I just thought it wasn’t my thing, but the BBC convinced me to do something else. This one, Ken Hom’s Hot Wok, allowed me to cook outside, not just in a studio. One of the people who agreed was John Cleese, who is here eating my crispy vegetable packets. I was always a fan of John Cleese, especially after Fawlty Towers. Being in the food and hospitality industry I thought that show was so brilliant

1996: I had mentioned in a media interview that I wanted to meet Eric Cantona, who was then working for Manchester United, and the manager Alex Ferguson saw the interview.  The next thing I knew, he invited me to cook for the whole team.  That's Eric on the left, whom I surprised by speaking to him in French, Ryan Giggs next to me on the other side and Alex next to him, chopsticks in hand.  After that Alex and I became very good friends, so of course I had to be a fan of Manchester United

1996: I had mentioned in a media interview that I wanted to meet Eric Cantona, who was then working for Manchester United, and the manager Alex Ferguson saw the interview. The next thing I knew, he invited me to cook for the whole team. That’s Eric on the left, whom I surprised by speaking to him in French, Ryan Giggs next to me on the other side and Alex next to him, chopsticks in hand. After that Alex and I became very good friends, so of course I had to be a fan of Manchester United

2001: Tony Blair decides to have a tête-à-tête with French President Jacques Chirac [both pictured] in a restaurant in London where I was a consultant chef.  I remember Chirac wanting to drink beer while everyone else was drinking wine.  Shortly after Tony became Prime Minister in 1997, he asked me to prepare lunch for the Asia-Europe Summit, a meeting of leaders.  It was a great success and after that we became friends.  Tony loves Chinese food and loves duck dishes

2001: Tony Blair decides to have a tête-à-tête with French President Jacques Chirac [both pictured] in a restaurant in London where I was a consultant chef. I remember Chirac wanting to drink beer while everyone else was drinking wine. Shortly after Tony became Prime Minister in 1997, he asked me to prepare lunch for the Asia-Europe Summit, a meeting of leaders. It was a great success and after that we became friends. Tony loves Chinese food and loves duck dishes

2002: This Was Celebrating My Mothers [centre] 80th birthday in Chicago.  She was very generous, and people loved her, but she was never convinced by my career choice and would say, 'Oh, you should be a real estate agent or a dentist and stop all this cooking nonsense.'  That changed in 1999 when I was asked to cook at 10 Downing Street for the first visit to Britain by a Chinese head of state, Jiang Zemin.  The event made headlines in all the Chinese newspapers around the world and after that my mother said, 'Maybe it's not a bad idea to keep cooking.'

2002: This Was Celebrating My Mothers [centre] 80th birthday in Chicago. She was very generous, and people loved her, but she was never convinced by my career choice and would say, ‘Oh, you should be a real estate agent or a dentist and stop all this cooking nonsense.’ That changed in 1999 when I was asked to cook at 10 Downing Street for the first visit to Britain by a Chinese head of state, Jiang Zemin. The event made headlines in all the Chinese newspapers around the world and after that my mother said, ‘Maybe it’s not a bad idea to keep cooking.’

2014: I am a big fan of Italian cuisine and called these three the Italian cooking mafia.  Antonio Carluccio [in green] and I went a long way back and this was taken at his birthday party.  With us are Gennaro Contaldo [far left] and Giorgio Locatelli.  It was cold, so they threw this blanket over me and said, 'You're the Dalai Lama!'  Chefs, despite the stereotype, are a very sharing bunch of people.  We like other people's food.  That's how we learn

2014: I am a big fan of Italian cuisine and called these three the Italian cooking mafia. Antonio Carluccio [in green] and I went a long way back and this was taken at his birthday party. With us are Gennaro Contaldo [far left] and Giorgio Locatelli. It was cold, so they threw this blanket over me and said, ‘You’re the Dalai Lama!’ Chefs, despite the stereotype, are a very sharing bunch of people. We like other people’s food. That’s how we learn

Ken supports Action Against Hunger (actionagainsthunger.org) and Prostate Cancer UK (prostatecanceruk.org). As told to Roz Lewis.

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