#ChineseFoodiesofIG: Amy Poon, Poon's London

Amy Poon  with her father Bill Poon of  Poon’s London

Amy Poon with her father Bill Poon of Poon’s London

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews I’m doing with my favourite Chinese foodies that I follow on Instagram. Come and follow the #ChineseFoodiesofIG hashtag on Instagram and leave a comment showing your support for these talented folk!

Where are you from? Where are you really from?

London, really London. I was born in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and the first school I attended was in Soho, between a sex shop and a strip joint. At nine I went to boarding school and spent part of my childhood between London and Geneva, where my parents opened Poon’s of Geneva in 1985. My father is from Shunde in Guangzhou and my mother is Hakka, from Hong Kong. Most of my adult life has been spent abroad — Tokyo, Sydney and Singapore. My granny used to call me her "banana grandchild”. I guess that makes me a third-culture kid and a citizen of nowhere…

How did you learn to cook?

Mostly by helping my mother at home. My parents had an open door policy and often on Sundays and feast days she would cook for anyone who had nowhere else to go — staff, students, friends of friends from HK and China. I was her commis and her kitchen porter! She could literally magic something out of virtually nothing that would make you sigh with contentment. I don’t think she has ever read a cookbook in her life.

The more technical stuff I learnt from my father, but more often in conversation over meals than in practice. The kitchen at Poon’s was always too busy and too dangerous for a child, or for anyone who didn’t have a very specific reason for being in it. It was a terrifying and exhilarating place: the defining roar of the wok burners, the intense heat, the speed and freneticism, the intense focus… It was pretty high-octane energy and thrilling to be allowed in at the end of service.

What does Chinese food mean to you?

Comfort, joy, love, home, heritage and celebration.

Favourite Chinese vegetable?

I always order dou miao in superior stock if I see it on a menu but otherwise, kailan stir fried with ginger juice, and bitter gourd. I love it stir fried in black bean sauce.

Most underrated Chinese ingredient:

XO sauce? Yellow bean paste — the Chinese equivalent to miso.

Know any good Chinese restaurants?

I always check in with my parents first to find out which chefs have gone where but generally, I go to Royal China for dim sum, New Fortune Cookie in Queensway for roast duck and more recently Imperial Treasure for an occasion.

Who's your Chinese food legend?

My father, Bill Poon. There aren’t many like him left — I’m not sure there were many like him to begin with. His knowledge of Chinese food, the history of certain dishes, his experience in the kitchen and his skill and technique are second to none. He broke the mold with Poon’s of Covent Garden, where he was awarded a Michelin Star in 1980. Away from Chinatown, and until then the accepted norms of Chinese restaurants, and long before the concept of open kitchens, he built a glass kitchen right in the middle of Poon’s to show customers how Chinese food is prepared and cooked. He trained with a Swiss pâtissier in his youth and made his own wedding cake. He makes the best crème caramel I have ever had. He truly has an exceptional touch, it’s as if he speaks to the food he cooks and coaxes it...

What's in your fridge?

Furu, century eggs brought back from HK, Lea & Perrins, preserved chilli radish, tofu, dried shrimp paste, kefir, coconut water, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, yellow bean paste, white miso, niu ru, Stokes tomato ketchup, Chinese cabbage, spring onions, ginger, coriander, sugar snaps, samphire, salted fish, dried oysters, dried shrimp, XO sauce, Poon’s wind-dried duck and liver sausages, leftover sang choi bao filling, curry from my mother, salmon head soup, an aubergine, squeezy yoghurt, salami.

What does home taste like?

Chinese tonic soup made with pork ribs and herbs and beans and dried dates and lots of things that don’t translate well with only obscure Latin names to identify them — unless you’re Chinese.

That and rice porridge.

What would you like to tell the world about Chinese food?

There is so much more to Chinese food than sweet and sour pork and dim sum! It has breadth and depth that is yet to be explored. As well as the wealth of regional dishes, there is an array of cooking techniques that is not yet familiar. Chinese food can also be surprisingly simple and you don’t necessarily need fancy kit to cook it at home. It’s much more accessible than most people think. Chinese food is so much than nourishment for the body and sensations for the mouth, it is culturally an expression of love. The Chinese are not known to be tactile people but they express their love and affection through food.


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