It's 30 years since Ken first appeared on our TV screens, teaching us, for the first time, how to cook Chinese food at home.
Now Ken regularly appears on the likes of Saturday Morning Kitchen, alongside running his many Michelin star kitchens around the globe.
“At my age, I’m just doing things I like, but I’m always learning every day, too. I believe it’s important to listen to people and not assume you know everything. And I’m discovering new tastes and ways of doing things all the time.”
As a world-renowned chef, Ken has cooked for some of the most famous people on the planet but his favourite dinner guest? Well that has to be Tina Turner.
“I used to watch Tina playing at the Cheetah Club in Chicago in the Sixties and I thought she was amazing. Years later Tina and I met through a mutual friend and I said to her ‘you don’t know me, but I know you’ and we hit it off right away. We have a lot in common as we’re both Buddhists and she loves Asian food. So I invited her to let me cook for her and she flew all the way from Zurich to south west France just to have dinner with me. She was absolutely charming and would say to me in her husky voice, ‘darling, this is delicious’. And I would just melt.”
But fame, for Ken, isn’t just about these incredible, star-studded moments, which will no doubt form a thrilling chunk of the memoirs he’s currently writing which will be published this autumn. It’s also about using his success to do good.
“I am where I am because so many people throughout my life have been kind to me. And you have to give back. Because I grew up poor, I can see that other people haven’t had the luck and chances I had. The fact I can use my fame or money to help other people is a brilliant thing. When you’re nice to people, it feels great and comes back to you ten times.”
That’s why Ken has devoted his life to helping the charity Action Against Hunger, as well as more recently supporting Prostate Cancer UK, after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010.
Although he’s fit and healthy today, he will also leave his entire legacy – an estimated £2.5 million – to charity. “We arrive in this world with nothing and should leave with nothing. I just want to leave this world in a better place.”
From humble beginnings to star TV chef
Since Ken first appeared on our screens in 1982, he's become known as one of the world’s greatest chefs and TV cooks, with a staggering 8 million of his woks have been sold worldwide since they launched on the high street 30 years ago.
It’s all been an unlikely tale of success for the little boy who grew up poor and skinny in Tuscon, Arizona, with his Chinese mother, after his father died when he was eight months’ old. “Growing up I used to devour food, because I didn’t get too much of it. My mother was a good cook but most of what I learned was from my uncle whose restaurant I worked in from the age of 11,” he says.
But it was when Ken came to Europe to study at university that he truly realised cooking was his calling. With the French and Italian friends he made throughout his course, he began experimenting with different cuisines and was soon holding cookery workshops around the world to pay for his student rent.
Then by chance in the early Eighties, Ken landed a TV series called Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery, and released a book to go with it which many people still consider a Bible for Chinese cooking. The rest is history.
“When I started on TV I never dreamt I’d still be going strong today. I think what fascinated people about my food was that it was easy. Before me, TV cooks would often say ‘here’s one I made earlier.’ In other words ’I made it before and it’s been cooking in the oven or stewing in a pan for a long time!’ But for the first time ever, I was a chef cooking in real time on TV and it was quick. I think that was the moment people realised they could cook simple, delicious, nutritious food for themselves at home. In some ways that was revolutionary.”
- For more star chat, pick up the latest copy of Yours magazine