On Saturday, the Cooking Channel launches "Easy Chinese: San Francisco," a full season of 14 30-minute episodes showing Taiwanese-born Ching-He Huang cooking her recipes in our town.
I spoke with Ching on the phone earlier this week from her home in London about what it was like to spend three months (May-July) here shooting, what restaurants she liked, and which foods she misses.
SFoodie: What was it like trying to look warm during a picnic at Crissy Field?
Ching: It was freezing. At least it was sunny, though. We were lucky with the weather.
SFoodie: Where did you live while you were here?
Ching: I stayed in Russian Hill, not too far from that crazy Lombard Street. It's a great part of town. At first they put me in Van Ness. That was interesting.
SFoodie: What were your favorite local foods?
Ching: I had pies from Mission Pie. I just couldn't get enough of it. That was my pick-me-up. The crew kept getting me cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes. One of my favorites was La Taqueria. I came back about seven kilos heavier. I hit the gym straight away. But I loved every minute of it. When you take on a project like this, it's quite long in your head. But it whizzed by. We had a ball. You've got so many foodies, people who are passionate about food.
SFoodie: How is the Chinese food scene here different from other places?
Ching: You have a lot more interesting things. A lot of the Chinese restaurants in New York are more classic, more traditional, and also a lot more regional. The scene in San Francisco has a lot more fusion stuff, which was very exciting. The guys on the Chairman Bao truck, adding pickled daikon and other Japanese touches. It's really fantastic to see this fusion food. I thought, oh, I should be more free to experiment and try more fusion things. Everyone's taste is more global now.
SFoodie: Did you show how any of the local restaurants make their specialties?
Ching: We do go visit the Great Eastern in Chinatown and we see how they make their pork and chive dumplings. We wanted to give you a little taste of how it is in the restaurant and then show you how to make it at home by me. I'm the vehicle. You can do Chinese food easily at home. That's my message.
SFoodie: Where did you source your ingredients?
Ching: A lot of ingredients we tried to keep as accessible as possible. People have this stigma attached to Chinese cooking that it's really hard to make at home. I wanted to show that different recipes are available to different cooks at different levels. We went to the local farmers' market to pick up a lot of fresh ingredients.
SFoodie: What's your cooking background?
Ching: I was born in Taiwan. I had a lot of cooking inspiration from my grandmothers. Then we moved to London. I haven't trained as a professional chef. I learned as I've gone along, from my mother mostly. I had a catering business I set up when I was 21. I learned a lot from that. I did that for nine years. I've done a few books. I always say to people, if I can cook Chinese, then you can. I love Chinese food so much. It's so easy and so good for you.
SFoodie: What experiences did you have here that were unique to San Francisco?
Ching: There were just so many things, from the Wente winery that I went to, to the abalone farm in Monterey. Seeing abalone being reared in such a sustainable way was great, and being able to cook with one, that was fantastic.