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My life through a lens: TV chef Ken Hom, 72, shares the stories behind his favourite snaps 

My life through a lens: Legendary TV chef Ken Hom, 72, shares the stories behind his favourite snaps


Celebrities share the stories behind their favourite photographs. This week it’s legendary TV chef Ken Hom, 72

Legendary TV chef Ken Hom, 72  shared the stories behind a selection of his favourite snaps

1954: I was born in Tucson, Arizona, but after my father died when I was eight months old my mother Ying Fong and I moved to Chicago, where we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a block in the Chinatown area. Here I am, aged about five, with her. I was always a skinny child. My mum was the anchor in my life, my rock. She was a single mother, who bravely raised me herself. She never spoke English

1954: I was born in Tucson, Arizona, but after my father died when I was eight months old my mother Ying Fong and I moved to Chicago, where we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a block in the Chinatown area. Here I am, aged about five, with her. I was always a skinny child. My mum was the anchor in my life, my rock. She was a single mother, who bravely raised me herself. She never spoke English

1971: When you’re young, you’re very idealistic, and this picture is from when I was a flower child in California, a hippie. I was studying History of Art at the University of California because I’d wanted to get away from food – I’d worked in my uncle Paul’s restaurant in Chicago from the age of 11 to 16. I did some travelling as well, going to France and Italy

1971: When you’re young, you’re very idealistic, and this picture is from when I was a flower child in California, a hippie. I was studying History of Art at the University of California because I’d wanted to get away from food – I’d worked in my uncle Paul’s restaurant in Chicago from the age of 11 to 16. I did some travelling as well, going to France and Italy

1983: Hong Kong was a fantastic discovery and felt like home for me when I first visited in 1980 – this is me [second right] with some of my extended family there. I started spending time each year in Hong Kong to run cookery courses, and then the BBC auditioned me for a new series on Chinese cooking, some of which would be filmed on location there – a novelty back then. They’d been looking for a presenter for two years. The producer had worked on a show with Madhur Jaffrey, and it was Madhur who’d suggested me

1983: Hong Kong was a fantastic discovery and felt like home for me when I first visited in 1980 – this is me [second right] with some of my extended family there. I started spending time each year in Hong Kong to run cookery courses, and then the BBC auditioned me for a new series on Chinese cooking, some of which would be filmed on location there – a novelty back then. They’d been looking for a presenter for two years. The producer had worked on a show with Madhur Jaffrey, and it was Madhur who’d suggested me

1995: This was a shot from my second BBC series. I was so traumatised by the first that I couldn’t do another for more than ten years. I just thought it wasn’t my thing but the BBC convinced me to do another. For this one, Ken Hom’s Hot Wok, I was able to cook outside, not just in a studio. One of the people who agreed to be on it was John Cleese, who’s here eating my crispy vegetable parcels. I was always a John Cleese fan, especially after Fawlty Towers. Being in the food and hospitality business, I thought that show was so brilliant

1995: This was a shot from my second BBC series. I was so traumatised by the first that I couldn’t do another for more than ten years. I just thought it wasn’t my thing but the BBC convinced me to do another. For this one, Ken Hom’s Hot Wok, I was able to cook outside, not just in a studio. One of the people who agreed to be on it was John Cleese, who’s here eating my crispy vegetable parcels. I was always a John Cleese fan, especially after Fawlty Towers. Being in the food and hospitality business, I thought that show was so brilliant

1996: I’d said in a media interview that I wanted to meet Eric Cantona, who was at Manchester United at the time, and the manager Alex Ferguson saw the interview. The next thing I knew he invited me to cook for the whole team. That’s Eric on the left, who I surprised by speaking to him in French, Ryan Giggs next to me on the other side, and Alex next to him, chopsticks in hand. After that Alex and I became very great friends, so naturally I had to be a Manchester United fan

1996: I’d said in a media interview that I wanted to meet Eric Cantona, who was at Manchester United at the time, and the manager Alex Ferguson saw the interview. The next thing I knew he invited me to cook for the whole team. That’s Eric on the left, who I surprised by speaking to him in French, Ryan Giggs next to me on the other side, and Alex next to him, chopsticks in hand. After that Alex and I became very great friends, so naturally I had to be a Manchester United fan

2001: Tony Blair decided to hold a tête-à-tête with France's president Jacques Chirac [both pictured] at a London restaurant where I was consultant chef. I remember Chirac wanted to drink beer while everybody else drank wine. Soon after Tony became PM in 1997, he asked me to do the luncheon for the Asia-Europe summit, a meeting of leaders. It was a big success and we became friends after that. Tony's crazy about Chinese food and loves duck dishes

2001: Tony Blair decided to hold a tête-à-tête with France’s president Jacques Chirac [both pictured] at a London restaurant where I was consultant chef. I remember Chirac wanted to drink beer while everybody else drank wine. Soon after Tony became PM in 1997, he asked me to do the luncheon for the Asia-Europe summit, a meeting of leaders. It was a big success and we became friends after that. Tony’s crazy about Chinese food and loves duck dishes

2002: This was celebrating my mother’s [centre] 80th birthday in Chicago. She was very generous, and people adored her, but she was never convinced by my career choice, and would say, ‘Oh, you must become a real estate agent or dentist and stop all this cookery nonsense.’ That changed in 1999 when I was asked to cook at 10 Downing Street for the first visit to Britain of a Chinese head of state, Jiang Zemin. The event made all the Chinese newspapers around the world and afterwards my mother said, ‘Maybe it’s not a bad idea that you keep cooking.’

2002: This was celebrating my mother’s [centre] 80th birthday in Chicago. She was very generous, and people adored her, but she was never convinced by my career choice, and would say, ‘Oh, you must become a real estate agent or dentist and stop all this cookery nonsense.’ That changed in 1999 when I was asked to cook at 10 Downing Street for the first visit to Britain of a Chinese head of state, Jiang Zemin. The event made all the Chinese newspapers around the world and afterwards my mother said, ‘Maybe it’s not a bad idea that you keep cooking.’

2014: I'm a huge fan of Italian cooking, and I used to call these three the Italian cooking mafia. Antonio Carluccio [in green] and I went back a long way and this was taken at his birthday party. With us are Gennaro Contaldo [far left] and Giorgio Locatelli. It was cold so they threw this blanket on me, and said, 'You are the Dalai Lama!' Chefs, despite the stereotype, are a very sharing bunch of people. We love other people's food. That's how we learn

2014: I’m a huge fan of Italian cooking, and I used to call these three the Italian cooking mafia. Antonio Carluccio [in green] and I went back a long way and this was taken at his birthday party. With us are Gennaro Contaldo [far left] and Giorgio Locatelli. It was cold so they threw this blanket on me, and said, ‘You are the Dalai Lama!’ Chefs, despite the stereotype, are a very sharing bunch of people. We love other people’s food. That’s how we learn

Ken supports Action Against Hunger (actionagainsthunger.org) and Prostate Cancer UK (prostatecanceruk.org). As told to Roz Lewis.

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