The Golden Chopsticks Awards Pays Homage To Oriental Cuisine
The chopsticks are one of most iconic and ingenious inventions by ancient Chinese, reputedly dating back to the Shang Dynasty (c1600-1046 BCE). With just two identical short sticks, one can pick up any morsel of food once you have mastered the art of using chopsticks. So, it is fitting that the accolade to Oriental food industry in the UK is known as the “The Golden Chopsticks Awards”. It pays homage to one of the finest and sophisticated cuisines in the world drawing on the rich and varied food cultures from China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia.
The British was once known for their conservative taste in food and the most popular foreign food they embrace then is Indian food due to its colonial past. But with cheaper travel abroad, the culinary horizon of the British has expanded to many other countries. A food revolution has begun. While Chinese and Indian food top the list of foreign favourite food in UK, there are many other oriental contenders climbing up the gastronomic charts. Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino and Malaysian food among others are heating up their woks and clicking their chopsticks to make their presence known.
The campaign is open to any oriental restaurants or takeaways in the UK through public voting and the winners are decided by a panel of judges. Ken Hom the “godfather of Chinese food” is the head judge. He was the first Chinese chef on British TV with a career spanning over 40 years and undoubtedly the most respected and celebrated TV chef of all time. Commenting on the award, Ken Hom said, “How wonderful it is to finally have an iconic award that recognises the achievement of Asian food culture…. which has become part of the DNA of UK food culture. It is the best platform for encouraging up and coming chefs and restaurants but also celebrating the achievements of those who are already successful in the ever-growing Asian Food culture.”
But there is no official recognition for oriental food as such in the UK. Enter three friends who have a light bulb moment to put oriental food on the map. Gok Wan, a flamboyant and lovable TV presenter, fashion and style guru, author and a household name team up with Lucy Mitchell, the Managing Director of Oriental Food Specialist See Woo UK and Sarah Lewis, a leading food and drink Public Relation and communication specialist came with the brilliant concept of The Golden Chopsticks Awards (GCAs). Gok Wan in his statement said, “The mission of the GCAs is to celebrate the enormous contribution of Oriental cuisine to the UK catering industry and champion those who work within it.” It is like the Oscars of epicurean merit where existing and new talents are recognised for their contribution to the Oriental food industry.
The debut award ceremony was launched in 2018 and received tremendous response from the public, sponsors and media attention. Spurred on by its amazing response, a second award ceremony was organised for 2019.
Dance of the Lucky Lion
No auspicious Chinese ceremony would start without a lion dance. In the grand setting of the London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square, a Chinese Lion danced and pranced led by the “Good Fortune Buddha” who led the way for the Lion to circumnavigate the room spreading good fortune and good luck to all the guests and to the award ceremony. This marked the official opening of the Golden Chopsticks Awards 2019 with much aplomb and applause from the guests. The event attracted the media, influencers, budding chefs and the glitterati of the gastronomic world in the Oriental food industry. It was wonderful to see some familiar faces from cookery programmes. One of my favourite Chinese chefs is Ching-He Huang, the gorgeous and delightful Emmy nominated TV chef and food writer. She has demystified Chinese cooking bridging the East and West and her simple but delicious recipes are easy to follow. Like Ken Hom, she has popularised Chinese food among the British.
With 22 categories in the nomination, the ceremony was a tad too long but it was enlivened by Gok Wan as the host entertaining the audience with his witty repartee and humour. The nominations range from Best Newcomer, Best Food Influencer, Best restaurants in London and regional areas, Best Chef Award and Best Takeaway, among others. There are even awards for Best Dumpling, Best Noodle Dish and Best Street Food. Not surprisingly, the Best Dumpling Award went to Din Tai Fung, the globally renowned Taiwanese dumpling restaurant whose Xiao Long Baos are much celebrated worldwide. These delicious steamed dumplings with a soupy meat stuffing will have you on first bite. They opened their first European flagship outlet in Covent Garden London last year and has been receiving rave reviews.
The Rise Of The Wok Warriors
With the growing popularity of oriental cuisine in UK, a plethora of eateries have sprung up in restaurants, street food markets, pop-up restaurants, gastropubs, take-aways and supper clubs in private homes. The increasing demand for Oriental food in Britain has seen the emerging of young Asian chefs. The GCAs gives merit and recognition to these innovative and talented “wok warriors” who have firmly place oriental food on the gastronomic map. Among the winners are two young Malaysian ladies Mandy Yin and Ping Coombes who enjoy successful careers in the Oriental catering industry. These two ladies have put Malaysian cuisine on the culinary map in UK.
Mandy Yin, a former corporate lawyer turned chef and entrepreneur learned how to cook from observing her mother in the kitchen. After a stint of doing pop-up kitchen in markets and pubs in Covent Garden and East London, she launched Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar in 2018 in Holloway Road in north London. The signature dish is Laksa, a popular street food in Malaysia and each region has its own version. This spicy curry flavoured soup with noodles garnish with chicken, prawns or fish depending on the region of the country, is the nation’s favourite dish. Mandy has her own take on Laksa honing on her Peranakan Nyonya background.
The Peranakan Nyonya is known as “Straits-born Chinese”, a mixed race resulting from the marriages between male Chinese immigrants and Malays and other natives of then Malaya in the 15th through to 17th century. It is famous for its Sino-Malay cuisine using local ingredients and mostly Chinese cooking techniques. Mandy’s bijou restaurant serves a variety of laksa and a selection of Malaysian favourites. Commenting on her food, Mandy said, “I take inspiration from everything I ate in my childhood growing up in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Then I mix it up and put a new slant on it.” Her creative take on Malaysian food earned her the “Ching-He Huang Innovation Award”.
Ping Coombes is the winner of MasterChef UK 2014. She won the “Best Food Influencer” in UK award. She came from Ipoh, a small town about 180km from Kuala Lumpur, famous for its street food. She learned her cooking craft from her mother who is an excellent cook and whose motto is cooking recipes inspired by love and passion. Ping impressed the judges at MasterChef with her own innovative take on Malaysian food with a contemporary adaptation. Since winning MasterChef, Ping has been appointed Malaysia Kitchen Ambassador presenting food demonstration around UK. She has frequently appeared on British TV and her recipes have been published in many magazines and BBC website. Her pop-up session “Makan Club” in Bath is always sold out.
Ping is the Executive Chef to Ping Pan-Asian at Selfridges London and Manchester featuring modern Malaysian-Chinese street food. Her debut cookery book “Malaysia” topped the Best Seller List on Amazon and won in the Asia category in the Gourmand World Cookbook Award. She will be starting her own cookery class this year, so watch this space. You can follow her on social media- Instagram: pingcoombes Facebook: Ping Coombes MasterChef Winner 2014 Twitter: @WanPingCoombes
The Golden Chopstick Awards plan to hold the award ceremony annually and if you are in the oriental catering business and interested to take part, check it out.