Interview with

Interview with Suite

Filmmaker Produces TV Series about Chinese Food Around the World


This month, Mary Luz Meets Filmmaker Cheuk Kwan. Kwan has travelled the globe seeking Chinese restaurants and documenting the Chinese diaspora in a film series.

Cheuk Kwan– Asian Filmmaker Extraordinaire

Where were you born? Hong Kong

How old are you? 55. Still young.

Where do you currently reside? In Toronto, but I have lived in a lot of countries before: Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Saudi Arabia, U.S.

Occupation? A systems engineer for 25 years until I had mid-life crisis, that’s when I turned into a filmmaker.

Brief Bio? For four years, starting in 2000, I went with my director of photography, Kwoi, to thirteen countries to make a documentary series about the life stories of Chinese restaurant owners. It was quite an adventure. I spent the last two years editing and taking the films to international film festivals. You can read all about on my website.

You’ve traveled the world filming your various TV series/docs. What country’s food left you pleasantly amazed? Mauritius. It’s a true fusion of French, Creole, Chinese, and Indian cuisine. And of course, they have wonderful seafood.

Tell us a bit about the concept behind your Chinese Restaurants series. The Chinese Restaurants documentary series deals with the pertinent issues of the Chinese diaspora – migration, settlement, assimilation, identity, history, inter-racial marriages – all in the context of Chinese restaurants and Chinese food. My DOP Kwoi found our adventure life defining. He wrote a journal about our trip, which we are calling Kwoi’s Rice Bowl Diaries, as in Che’s Motorcycle Diaries.

How do Chinese restaurants in other parts of the world differ to the ones in China or here in Canada? There’s no “standard” definition Chinese food. Even Chinese cuisine inside China is divided into many regional varieties. For example, northern Chinese don’t eat rice! Whenever Chinese people open restaurants in other countries, they try blend in a lot of local tastes and cuisines to re-create a new kind of Chinese food. Chop suey is an American invention. The sweet and sour pork you find in Canada is not the same as those you find in Hong Kong.

Was there one in particular that was exceptional? Restaurant Le Jade in Tamatave, Madagascar was exceptional because we ran into a wonderful woman chef who, although she has never been to Hong Kong or China, makes a truly amazing and authentic Cantonese cuisine using the freshest seafood from the Indian Ocean.

What’s your all-time favourite food? Cantonese steamed fish with ginger and scallions.

Favourite style? Cantonese.

What’s your most irritating food peeve? Overcooking. Especially for fish and chicken, they should be slightly undercooked. When Cantonese serve whole fish or chicken, the bones have to be “pink”, that is, there should be some remnants of blood.

What are your top 3 Toronto restaurants, and why? 1- Susur (innovative Asian and French fusion) 2- Kisoya (my neighbourhood Korean-run Japanese restaurant) 3- Kam Joog Yuen on Spadina (a hole-in-the-wall Chinese with the best BBQ roast pork in North America)!

What’s your favourite out-the-way, “gem” spot to shop for food? I go to my Korean-run seafood wholesaler near Toronto airport when I need sushi-grade fish.

Best place in the city for Chinese food? It’s hard to pick the “best place” for Chinese food, there are so many varieties and most of the restaurants that knowledgeable Chinese diners in Toronto go to are very good. I was a “consulting juror” for Jan Wong when she had to pick to Top Ten in GTA recently for the Globe and Mail, and it was a tough job.

To MSG or not to MSG- what’s your verdict? Definitely not.

Do you have any tips on getting non-Asians to try more traditional dishes? Be adventurous, be brave, but most of all, close your eyes and put the food in your mouth without asking what it is. Just taste it, and you’d be surprised.

If you have to describe yourself as a Chinese dish which one would it be and why?Aiyaaa, never thought of this. I will pass.

_________________________________________________________________ posted September 24, 2006