Desert Island Books: Ken Hom
Ken Hom shares his Desert Island Book choices, with Helena Frith Powell
Ken Hom is regarded as the world’s leading authority on Chinese cookery. The Chinese-American chef, author and television presenter learnt to cook from the age of 11 when he started working in his uncle’s Chinese restaurant in Chicago after school and at weekends.
In order to help pay his fees at the University of California, he gave cooking lessons, which proved so popular that he was recommended to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He soon started teaching there, and then travelled to France and Italy to explore gastronomy further.
When the BBC was looking for a Chinese chef to produce a new series, he was recommended by the Indian actress and food writer Madhur Jaffrey, who had seen him giving lessons in California. This was the start of his UK TV career with his first series, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery, in 1984.
The BBC reissued Hom’s first book, based on the TV series, in a special 25-year edition in January 2009. Later that year, he was awarded with an honorary OBE for “services to culinary arts”.
Hom, 62, who works on a regular basis with the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Hotels in Dubai, is the author of 22 books. Semi-retired, he travels extensively worldwide and divides his time between France and Bangkok, where he supervises his restaurant, Maison Chin. He shares his Desert Island Books with Helena Frith Powell.
Ken Hom’s 100 Easy Chinese Suppers, published by Ebury this year, is available from all good bookshops
THE PENGUIN HISTORY OF MODERN CHINA – THE RISE AND FALL OF A GREAT POWER 1850-2009 by Jonathan Fenby
This is the kind of book you really wanted to read before the [2008 Beijing] Olympics. It explains so well the context of why this country has achieved what it has. It is well written and witty. On the island I would want something to keep me entertained and it is almost 700 pages, so will do that for awhile. I loved it. I couldn’t put it down. It is full of insights and a fascinating read.
GENERALISSIMO: CHIANG KAI-SHEK AND THE CHINA HE LOST by Jonathan Fenby
This is a fascinating book about someone who could have changed what China was about but somehow, due to a combination of his personal traits and bad luck, couldn’t get it together. He just didn’t rise to the occasion. The nation was ready to get behind him but he was a corrupt man. Basically he was the wrong man at the wrong time. This book puts him in a historical context. It is a great book about the person and the leadership style and has such a strong narrative it is almost like a novel.
WHAT NEXT? SURVIVING THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY by Chris Patten
If I’m going to be on a desert island I need to know what’s going on in the rest of the world. This is an excellent book for keeping abreast. It is the first time someone has been able to pull all the strands together into something coherent and analyse what it all means. He has an erudite, extremely British way of writing – self-deprecating and witty. It is a book full of opinionated and controversial statements about what we can do and how politicians will not do what is really necessary.
THE OPEN ROAD: THE GLOBAL JOURNEY OF THE FOURTEENTH DALAI LAMA by Pico Iyer
This is a wonderful writer. The book about the Dalai Lama is a favourite of mine because there is such a personal touch throughout. The author met the Dalai Lama when he was 11 years old. This is about his journey through life, but seeing him and being in touch with him again gives him an insight that is beyond all the hype. I love his style; he’s not pedantic, not trying to advocate his view, just taking us through a very personal connection with a great man.
SERVE THE PEOPLE: A STIR-FRIED JOURNEY THROUGH CHINA by Jen Lin-Liu
This is a book about someone who is Chinese- American, like me, and who went to Beijing for a year. But the difference is that she sees the country through the food rather than anything else. She looks at how they use food for different metaphors, for example, “looking for rice bowl” means “looking for a job”. It is a fantastic look into a modern China that is changing so fast, and it is very funny. It really is the kind of book I wish I had written: amusing, educational and entertaining.
ARTISTS IN EXILE: HOW REFUGEES FROM TWENTIETH-CENTURY WAR AND REVOLUTION TRANSFORMED THE AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS by Joseph Horowitz
I love this book so much because we all have this skewered view about how wonderful the States is but what people forget is that the genesis of the culture is from people like the Jews fleeing the Second World War. These are the people who made America what it is after the war. All these people infused American culture and basically turned it into the global export that it became. The great beneficiary economically, socially and culturally from the chaos of World War II was America simply by accepting all these people. I love this book because I discovered so much about people like Marlene Dietrich, whom I had a vague idea of. It gives you such great in-depth background into their personal circumstances. Also it makes you realise that these people were the privileged ones; due to their connections, they got in, and a lot of people didn’t. Boatloads of Jews were turned away and sent to the death camps.
FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES: ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF CHINESE FOOD by Jennifer 8 Lee
This is such a funny book. It is a chronicle about growing up in the States as a Chinese person and how fortune cookies came about. It made me laugh so much because some of the things she describes are some of the things I grew up with. I am going to need some humour on this island and this book will provide it.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019