There is an old Chinese saying: 民以食為天, loosely translated into “the most important thing in life for citizenry is food.” This is why eating well is so important to us Chinese. In fact, the common greeting among Chinese is “have you eaten yet?” And yet, the famous Chinese philosopher Mencius (孟子) said: 君子遠庖厨, meaning “A gentleman stays away from the kitchen.” This has been interpreted with dual meanings: 1) A gentlemen would not be able to eat meat once he has seen animals are being slaughtered, or 2) a gentleman would not have the wherewithal to prepare a meal. This is probably the reason why I have been dissuaded to learn how to cook in my youth.
This all changed after I arrived in the US on September 4, 1965 in Gainesville Florida. The entire town at that time consisted of one hideous Chinese restaurant serving chop-suey and chow-mein. The only way I could have a decent Chinese meal was being invited to my sister Juliet and my brother-in-law Paul’s, or some Chinese faculty’s home for dinner.
The real motivation for me to start learning how to cook was when I started to date my wife, Stephanie, in the early seventies. Since we were both very busy, we had to divide up the household chores. I quickly learned that the shortest path to her heart is through her stomach. So I chose to be the cook while she did the cleaning.
My specialties were initially all Chinese. Some of the dishes were my favorites from my mother’s cooking, e.g., steamed eggs. I have also learned a lot from a set of long-since-out-of-print cookbooks written by Pei-Mei Fu. As time progressed, I began to modify each dish, partly to accommodate American taste and the unavailability of some of the more esoteric ingredients. Some dishes, e.g., Strange Flavor Chicken, were imitations of dishes we tasted in restaurants. In this regard, I benefitted from Stephanie’s uncanny ability to decipher the ingredients in the sauce. Eventually, I started to venture into western dishes, but most of my dishes remain Chinese.
Luckily, all our kids seemed to like my cooking, as well some of their friends, who often stayed over for dinner. As they started to have families of their own, they began to pester me for recipes, especially Greg and Cory and their friends. Several years ago, Cory gave me a URL, victorsrecipes.com, as a holiday present to motivate me to write things down. In the summer of 2017, Cory visited us for several weeks, and we were able to make some major headway, not only in the contents, but also in having him acting as a guinea pig. In fact, he has become the webmaster, guinea pig, and collaborator, all rolled into one.
Stephanie’s research interests since 2007 have gradually shifted towards health and wellness. As a result, we began to pay a lot of attention to what we eat. Whenever possible, we now tend to use organic ingredients, not only meat and produce, but also spices and ingredients for sauces. Luckily, we live in Massachusetts and Hawaii, where most organic ingredients are readily available. With Whole Foods and Amazon, one can pretty much get everything one needs.
What cooking equipment do you need?
Here are some of the important equipment that I have found very useful, other than things that are typically available, like chopping board, measuring cup:
- Knife: I use a 7” Santoku knife made by Henckles.
- Cleaver: I use a 6” meat cleaver made by Henckles.
- Salad spinner: You need to make sure the veggies are dry when you sir-fry them. I use a salad spinner by XOX.
- Wok: A good wok is indispensible. Don’t buy a fancy one, with coating and handles. A new wok needs to be seasoned. Here is a good read for how to buy and season a wok.
- Wok accessories: You should probably get a cover, a spatula, and a bamboo brush/whisk for cleaning. Never use anything abrasive to clean a wok.
- Flat-bottom pan: For pan-frying Peking Ravioli or Scallion Pie.
- Steamer: This is useful for steaming dishes.
- Rice cooker: It is easy to make rice directly on the stove. But if you have several dishes to cook and have only four burners, you might want to relegate the rice cooking to a rice cooker.
—Victor Zue (August, 2017)