Ken Hom OBE (traditional Chinese: 譚榮輝; simplified Chinese: 谭荣辉; pinyin: Tán Rónghuī, born May 3, 1949) : Biography
Ken Hom OBE is the man who showed the British how to cook Asian food. A leading authority on Chinese cuisine, he is one of the most respected and celebrated TV chefs of all time. His phenomenal success is easily measured. He is the author of almost 40 books, which have inspired millions of home cooks around the world. And in Britain alone, the Ken Hom wok is found in one in seven kitchens. Ken Hom, who resides in France and in Thailand but travels tirelessly all over the world, continues to appear regularly as celebrity chef, write books and keep an involvement with restaurants worldwide. On any one day, when googling the name ‘Ken Hom’ the search brings back an amazing average of 45,600,00 results.
Additionally, he has been one of the fathers in articulating what is now popularly known as ‘fusion cooking’. His seminal book called East Meets West Cuisine was published in 1986. It was his natural development of cultural experiences, elective affinities that lend to the blending of Eastern and Western foods, seasonings, and techniques derived from his family life, professional teaching career and travels. The success of the concept led him to create menus for an airline, hotel restaurants worldwide as well as restaurant concepts over the last 45 years.
Ken was born in 1949 in Tucson, Arizona, where his Cantonese parents had emigrated. After losing his father when he was just eight months old, his mother moved to Chicago to be with relatives. (In 2022, Ken’s father was honoured with the award of a Congressional Gold Medal for his services during World War II). As Ken grew up, he found American food unpalatable compared to his mother’s cooking, so she used to send him to school with a flask of hot rice and stir-fried vegetables.
Aged 11, he went to work in his uncle’s restaurant, where he earned the equivalent of 30 pence per day. At 19 he headed off to California to study art history and French history. To pay for his university fees he started to give cookery lessons and quickly realised that this was where his heart really laid – especially with his native Chinese cuisine. He soon started teaching first in his home, and then at the California Culinary Academy (a school for professional chefs in San Francisco). He also travelled to France and Italy to explore gastronomy further.
His career to date
A major national profile on him, published in the New York Times in 1981, coincided with the publication of his first book on Chinese Cookery Techniques, first commissioned in 1978, to much acclaim. Soon after the BBC contacted him, producing his first UK television series in 1984 Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery, which bore the same title as the book accompanying the series, that many still regard as the ‘bible’. The show introduced and demystified Chinese cooking for the UK over 30 years ago, and was an instant hit, broadcast throughout the world. The book sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide making publishing history by being the first non-fiction book with a first printing of 350,000. In 2009, the BBC celebrated the 25th anniversary of the book, which to this day continues to be a top-seller after more than three decades in print.
Ken presented a further six television series – Hot Chefs, Ken Hom’s Hot Wok, Ken Hom’s Foolproof Chinese Cookery, Travels with a Hot Wok and Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure, attracting millions of viewers. He also presented a documentary on the origins of the noodle, ‘The Noodle Road’. This documentary series for KBS (Korean Broadcasting Service) was a huge success when broadcasted in early 2009 that it was sold to over 25 countries around the world, winning several awards, including the prestigious Peabody Award in 2010.
In November 2014 he released Truffles, the updated version of his book ‘Truffes’ first written in French in 2000 with Pierre-Jean Pebeyre of France’s legendary Pebeyre truffle family. The book won the Gourmand Award 2014 for ‘Best Mushroom Book’ category – USA.
His most recent book is his autobiography ‘My Stir Fried Life’ which was translated in Chinese and launched in China in November 2019. It has now been translated in Thai with a publication date of February 2022. The book is a high-spirited, life-enriching feast where the chopsticks never stop clattering, the platters are always abundant, and dreams – no matter how ridiculously unbelievable – can and do come true.
The Ken Hom Wok
The year 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of the Ken Hom Wok, the iconic piece of cookware which epitomises Ken’s style of cooking and which he commercially introduced to the British public in 1986 and it is one of the world’s longest best-selling branded cookware. It has sold over 8 million units globally in 72 countries, of which 5.43 million in the UK alone and continues to sell around 100,000 units per year. Through his pioneering television series Ken Hom demystified the secrets of Chinese cooking and taught the UK how to cook with a wok. Ken’s name is so intrinsically connected with the wok, that James Martin, long-time former presenter of BBC cookery programme ‘Saturday Kitchen’ affectionately described Ken Hom as ‘half man, half wok’. In 2022, the BBC launched their new online archive to commemorate the corporation’s centenary. Among the iconic objects selected for shaping the lifestyle of the past 100 years, it’s the Ken Hom Wok with the mention: ‘Mr Hom has been credited with introducing the fundamentals of Chinese cooking to Britons after his first UK TV show aired on BBC2 in 1984’.
Charities and Causes
Since 2008, he has been an ambassador for Action Against Hunger, the humanitarian charity which works in over 40 countries helping families to feed their children and build a sustainable life. He has helped raise almost 11 million for the charity over the last 15 years. www.aahuk.org. Ken Hom also tirelessly supports several other charities such as The Ronald McDonalds House Charity (RMHC) and Prostate Cancer UK, www.prostatecanceruk.org raising awareness of the need for early detection. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and has since made a successful and full recovery.
An ambassador of GREAT, the government’s international marketing campaign showcasing the best Britain has to offer, he has been supporting the campaign including at the 2015 Milan Expo Since its inception in 2012, and thanks to his supporters, the campaign has delivered a £1.2b return on investment up to March this year, and the UK is now expected to welcome 42m international visitors by 2020.
Ken Hom’s Honours
In 2018 Ken received the Outstanding Contribution to Food Award from the inaugural Golden Chopstick Awards. The awards celebrate the best of the UK’s oriental food community. He was also honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to Culinary Culture by the Hurun Report, the world authority for the Chinese high net worth individuals. The Hurun Report aims to build a bridge linking the elites from both the UK and China and recognise outstanding contribution for the UK-China relationship. In 2009 he was awarded with an honorary OBE for ‘services to culinary arts’, recognising his achievements and the impressive social and historical impact he made on the way the UK has ‘adopted’ Chinese cuisine, which has now become one of the nation’s favourites. In 2007, he was awarded with an honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University for his ‘outstanding success within the international food world’. He donated his entire library of almost 3,000 cookery books for the benefit of the catering students. He was also appointed as Founding Patron of Oxford Gastronomica, which from 2007 to 2017 was a food and cultural studies Institute based within Oxford Brookes University. He is now a Founding Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective, an independent cultural Institute that promotes better understanding of food and drink. The Collective has links to Oxford Brookes University through its foundation, formed to provide students with outstanding learning experience. https://oxfordculturalcollective.com/
Ken Hom Background Information
Ken Hom Restaurants and Consultancies – During his long career, Ken Hom has fronted a number of top restaurants world-wide, including the Yellow River group and the Oriental Restaurants group throughout the UK, the Maison Chin restaurant at the Bandara Hotel in Bangkok and most recently MEE restaurant at the Belmond’s Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro. All restaurants won several prestigious awards, with MEE being awarded a Michelin star as well as winning ‘Best Asian Restaurant’ from the Eat and Drink awards and ‘Restaurant of the Year’ from the Brazilian Government Tourist Bureau.
Ken Hom has also worked as a consultant for hotels, restaurants and airlines and has cooked personally for presidents, prime ministers, celebrities and royalty.
Also visit: www.kenhom.com Twitter @chefkenhom; Facebook Chef Ken Hom. His interests include: travel, French and Italian wine, premium Japanese sake and Japanese whisky, swimming, British TV, reading avidly, football (Manchester United), current events and history. Music: Oldies, Canton pop, Thai & Japanese pop, Rhythm & Blues, Motown, Jazz, Big Band, Classical (of all era) Opera, Western pop, Beatles, French and Italian pop, New Age, Brazilian, World music. Ken speaks English, French and Cantonese fluently. Also some Mandarin, Japanese, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Thai.
In Ken Hom’s Name:
- The Ken Hom/Lee Kum Kee Scholarship
- Annual Ken Hom Lecture series at Oxford Cultural Collective
- Ken Hom Writer in Residence Fellowship at Oxford Brookes University
- The Ken Hom Library at the Oxford Brookes University Library
Ken Hom: Awards & Honours
- Appointed Ambassador of Guangzhou Cultural Exchange in the New Era by the Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government (2019)
- The Golden Chopstick Award – Outstanding Contribution to Food Award (2018)
- Hurun Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to culinary culture (2018)
- Appointed Founding Patron of the Oxford Cultural Collective (2017)
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Curry Festival (2016)
- Ken Hom’s restaurant MEE at the Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, receives a Michelin star. One of only six to receive it in Rio de Janeiro (9 April 2015)
- Appointed a ‘GREAT’ Britain campaign ambassador (2014)
- Appointed advisory board member of the Berkshire Encyclopaedia of Chinese Cuisines (USA) (2014)
- Gourmand International Awards Cookbook – ‘Best in the World’ award for the Culinary Travel Category for Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure (with Ching He Huang) (Paris Cookbook Fair) (2013)
- Food Broadcast of the Year Award 2013 for Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure with Ching He Huang (Guild of Food Writers Awards) (2013)
- Prestigious Peabody Award for Noodle Road TV documentary series for KBS (2010)
- Honorary Member of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (2010)
- Noodle Road nominated for best TV documentary of New York Film Festival (2010)
- Awarded OBE by HM The Queen for services to the culinary arts (2009)
- Grand Prize Winner – Korean’s Producer Award for Noodle Road (2009)
- Grand Prize Winner Documentary – ABU Awards (2009)
- Honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University (2007)
- Appointed Founding Patron of Oxford Gastronomica: the Centre for Food, Drink and Culture (2007)
- Honorary Member of The 48 Group Club (2002)
- Honorary Chairperson of The Institute for the Advancement of the Science & Art of Chinese Cuisine (1993)
- Inducted in the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America as recognition of significant and lasting achievement in the culinary industry (1990)
- Nominated for an Emmy Award as Producer of the documentary The Long March, San Francisco (1976)
Literary & Broadcast Recognitions
- Gourmand Award 2015 for ‘Best Mushroom Book’ category – USA for Truffles with Pierre-Jean Pébeyre (Serindia Contemporary, 2014)
- Guild of Food Writers Awards 2013 – Food Broadcast of the Year for Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure (BBC2); (shortlisted for the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2013 for both the Food Broadcast of the Year Award and the Award for Work on Food and Travel)
- Gourmand International Awards 2013 Cookbook – ‘Best in the World’ award for the Culinary Travel Category – for Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure (with Ching He Huang) – (BBC Books, 2012); (Paris Cookbook Fair)
- Peabody Award for The Noodle Road TV documentary series for KBS Television 2010
- Noodle Road nomination for best TV documentary of New York Film Festival, 2010
- Korea’s Producer Award for Noodle Road 2009 – Grand Prize Winner
- ABU Awards 2009 – Grand Prize Winner Documentary –
- Cookbook of the Year from Food and Wine Magazine – Ken Hom’s Quick Wok (Headline Books, 2001) – USA
- Shortlisted for Prix Litteraire de la Gastronomie Antonin Careme – Truffes, avec Pierre-Jean Pébeyre (Hachette 2000)
- Winner of the André Simon Memorial Book of Year 1998- Easy Family Dishes: A Memoirs with Recipes BBC Books, 1998)
- Shortlisted for André Simon Memorial Book of Year 1990- The Taste of China (Pavilion Books, 1990)
- Shortlisted for André Simon Memorial Book of Year 1987 – Ken Hom’s East Meets West Cuisine (Macmillan 1987) in hardback and paperback
- Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure by Ken Hom & Ching He Huang (BBC Books, 2012) – The The Best25 (25 years of cookbooks) The Gourmand Awards, 2021 Paris Cookbook Fair
- Truffles with Pierre-Jean Pébeyre (Serindia Contemporary, 2014) **Winner Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2015 for Best Mushrooms (USA)
- Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure (with Ching He Huang) (BBC Books, 2012) **Winner Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2013 for Culinary Travel – Short listed for The Guild of Food Writers Awards 2013 for both the Food Broadcast of the Year Award and the Award for Work on Food and Travel
- Ken Hom’s Quick Wok (Headline Books, 2001) ** Cookbook of the Year from Food & Wine magazine, USA
- Truffes (in French) with Pierre-Jean Pébeyre (Hachette, 2001) ** Short listed for Prix Litteraire de la Gastronomie Antonin Careme
- Easy Family Dishes: A Memoir with Recipes (BBC Books, 1998) ** Winner of the Andre Simon Memorial Book of Year 1998
- The Taste of China (Pavilion Books, 1990) ** Short listed for Andre Simon Memorial Book of Year 1990
- Ken Hom’s East Meets West Cuisine (Macmillan, 1987) In hardback & paperback** Short listed for Andre Simon Memorial Book of Year 1987
- Chinesisch kochen (Droemersche Verlagsanstalt Th. Knaur Nachf. GmbH, München 2003) Gastronomische Akademie – Deutschland (GAD) Silver Medal
- Wok – Thailändisch Kochen (Augustus Verlag, München 2002) Gastronomische Akademie – Deutschland (GAD) Silver Medal
- One Michelin star awarded in March 2015 and again in 2016 and 2017 for his restaurant MEE located within the Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro. MEE is now among the top six restaurants in Rio to win one Michelin star and currently there are no two or three stars awarded in the town.
- In December 2016, MEE won the Best Asian Restaurant award in Rio de Janeiro and shortly after it received the prestigious Restaurant of the Year Award 2016 given by the Government’s Tourist Bureau.
An Interesting Aside
The National Portrait Gallery
A colour transparency of Ken Hom by Barry Marsden in 1998 sits in the National Portrait Gallery, the art gallery in London housing a collection of portraits of historically important and famous people in Britain. It was the first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1856.
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