At noon on a crisp autumn day, Kwanghee Chan sits at a corner table in Smart Bites restaurant on Dublin’s Capital Docks, watching the comings and goings. Lunchtime customers are starting to fill up, but like all other restaurant owners in the country, he says they have a lot of customers, but the continued problem of rising food and energy costs. He worries about what will happen “when the heating kicks in” during the winter.
Managing bills and cash flow is a constant balancing act,” says Kwanghi. “There’s a finite amount you can charge for a plate of food, so at this point it’s survival of the fittest, and those who can keep their heads above the water survive.”
If you’ve ever seen Kwanghi knock out a recipe Six O’Clock Showeaten at one of his restaurants and cheered him on at RTÉ’s food truck battleor if you pick up a tub of his ChanChan Spice Bag Seasoning at the supermarket, you’ll know the Hong Kong-born chef with his Donegal accent is a man of many talents.
Now, with publication, pan Blasta Books allows Kwanghi to add “cookbook author” to her resume. The first Irish and Chinese cookbook ever published, pan is an accessible collection of recipes, including some that are most popular on TV (with lemon chicken) and others that you can cook at home with your family.
These days, Kwanghi says he’s more of a businessman than a chef, and Capital Dock’s sophisticated surroundings are in every sense from his Uncle Sam’s Wing Tai House Chinese takeout on Main Street in Donegal’s Buncrana. could not be farther away. Kwan-hee learned to cook first. Sam named the restaurant after the Hong Kong apartment building where his family lived and where Kwan-hee spent his youth.
Eight-year-old Kwanghi, who speaks no English, was sent to Donegal to live with his father’s brother, Sam, his wife, Mura, and their two children.
“My mother left home and remarried, and my father took care of me, but my father could not. I was in Belfast before marrying my aunt Mura, a local woman, and opening my own place in Buncrana.”
In the late 1980s, the Zhangs were the only Chinese family in town. “I went to a local school and was bullied,” Kwanghee recalls. “On my first day, I was spat in the gym during the morning break.
“I was always the only Chinese and there weren’t any other Asians so the bullying really never stopped. That was the reality at the time in a farm town in the middle of Donegal. Cool kids.” There were times when I felt lonely because I couldn’t be with him, so I kept my head down and worked.
One of Kwanghi’s tasks was learning how to peel the prawns that were frozen with the heads on. “We were using our brains to make soup for the staff’s dinner,” he said. pan“Meals made with ingredients and offcuts that the Irish do not eat have always been the most delicious…”
Sam taught Kwanghi to make Peking duck with puffy skin and to marinate pork fillets and necks for char siu in ginger and garlic for 24 hours. I could cook and oversee restaurant operations if my uncle needed to take a vacation.
There were also expectations that Kwang-hee, who is not good at school, would enter the restaurant industry. “My grandfather, now deceased, always expected me to go into business because nothing else seemed to fit my career. Typical of an immigrant family, I think. I was good at art in school and for a while I wanted to go to art college in Delhi but I heard my friend saying that he was going to take a chef’s course. I didn’t know you could train as a cook.Killybegs was the closest catering college.I applied for it and was accepted.”
Gwang Gi is a famous university chef Gary O’Hanlon (of restaurant fame) and Gearóid Lynch (of The Olde Post Inn in Cavan), learning classic French recipes and techniques and coming to understand the brigade system. He set aside his Chinese culinary heritage. With his successful employment at his lodge in Wineport, Gwanggi worked there for several years after college. He has worked in Derry Clark in Recrivan, Ross Lewis in Chapter One, and Peacock Alley and The Commons where he has other fine dining jobs.
“I was moving around,” he says. “At the time, I was in the process of immigration because I could not get a proper adoption. I had to ask my employer for stamps and sort everything out myself, looking for stamps at Garda station each time so that I could stay for six or seven years. I had to go. I wasn’t a free agent. I was basically on my own.”
“Hard work was my escape from reality,” he wrote in Wok. “Ever since I was a kid. Growing up in a quaint little town, I was bullied and people called me ill for being Chinese. Maybe that’s why I loved the kitchen. Because when you are, you don’t have time to think about anything, just work instead of fantasizing.”
It was hard. I worked her 16 hours a day and didn’t get to see his wife and toddler daughter much.
Eventually, Kwang-hee collected enough stamps to apply for naturalization. BibleI was really happy when I was able to stay freely. Until then, I just kept my head down and worked. I never really thought about how I got here, and I didn’t want to think about what I would do if I was kicked out and sent back to Hong Kong.
I met my now partner, Michelle O’Doineannaigh, while working at the CityWest Hotel. They moved to Donegal and were working at Ballyliffin Lodge and Spa in Donegal when Martin Cajuiter called and asked if they would be head chefs at The Michelin-starred restaurant Haus. Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore.
“I learned a lot there,” he wrote in Wok. He could not show any weakness, especially as a Chinese man leading a young team in a Michelin-starred restaurant. He had to put on a game face every day. I worked 16 hours a day for him and didn’t see his wife and toddler daughter much. ”
Meanwhile, Michelle embarks on a mission to mend her relationship with her mother. “I no longer speak to my father, but Michelle contacted me on Facebook asking how I could find my mother. I wanted to know more about our family history. I contacted several restaurants asking if anyone knew my mother’s name, and one of them came back and said, ‘We know her, why would you want to know? ?
“Michelle had been in contact with my mother before she told me. One night she sat me down and said, ‘I’ve found your mother. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.It was stewing in my head for a while.For several years I wasn’t in the right place to do anything about it.”
In 2016, I visited Hong Kong for the first time since I was a child. He says he felt normal for the first time in his life, surrounded by other Chinese in a busy business district. Because he looked the same to everyone and didn’t stand out like he did in Ireland.
“It was a very moving trip,” he recalls. His mother had remarried, and I had a half-brother and sister whom I had never met before. My mother comes from a large family of eight brothers and sisters. Including her cousins, she has 43, some of whom live in Belgium. There was a family reunion and some of my older cousins reminisced about when I was younger. They called me a “lost child”.it’s real [Long] Lost Family Moments…Have you seen that show? I’m fine now. We are all old and my head is in the right place. Had I known that when I was younger, I might not have been able to cope, but I was more mature and was able to accept it and forgive it. It took a lot of counseling to see. ”
In Dublin, the schools the Kwanghi kids attend are “pretty mixed,” so Lily, 9, and Alex, 3, don’t have to deal with the racism their father experienced in Donegal in the 1980s. Take the family to Good World or Ka Shing for dim sum on the weekends and get in touch with Chinese culinary traditions. The children call Sam and Mulla Grandpa and Grandma, and the family visits Donegal often.
An ambassador from Bord Bia, who promotes Irish cuisine, gave Kwangi the chance to return to Hong Kong again, and since then, Kwangi, Michelle, Lily and Alex have returned several times and are planning another trip in January. Alex is looking forward to going to Disneyland, while Kwan-hee is looking forward to eating great food that Hong Kong has no shortage of.
“I love fine dining and I love all experiences. Fried crab on the side, sucking on shells, eating noodles in the midst of the midnight hustle and bustle.In Hong Kong you can get really good food at the highest and lowest levels.When I’m there, I brought back to Ireland and am always looking for new flavor profiles that I can recreate in the food here.It’s a way of reconnecting with my roots. I never got the chance to go back and revisit the culture of
Kwanghi enjoys being a hands-on entrepreneur — he has a bookkeeper, but handles all social media for his two restaurants, food trucks and retail stores himself — he says he misses cooking.
“When I get out of this situation financially in a good way, and when I can support my family and have some spare time, I would like to open a small restaurant with 12 seats and enjoy lunches and dinners. I go back to high end stuff and use Asian flavors in fine dining. And it’s going to be very relaxing, and I think you’ll be happy.”
Kwanghi Chan’s “Wok” is €15 and published by Blasta Books, blastabooks.com.