It has been two transformative years for Chef Rosheen Kaul.
Now the head of the Etta restaurant kitchen in Melbourne, the food she serves is exciting by national standards. But while Kaul moves at his own pace, his latest project builds on one from his past.
In lockdown, she – along with friend and artist Joanna Hu – self-posted The Isol Cookbook (Asian)a collection of 40 deliciously illustrated pages of simple and tasty recipes.
Now it has evolved – in 223 pages Chinese-ish: home cooking, not quite authentic, 100% delicious, published by Murdoch Books and debuting today. But it’s more than just a cookbook. It’s a glimpse into what it’s like to grow up straddling two or more cultures (Kaul also has Filipino and Kashmiri heritage), reflected not only in the recipes, but also in the anecdotes, author portraits and the splendid original illustrations by Hu.
“In writing Chinese-ishit was actually incredibly helpful to have a body of work to build on and inevitably expand to create a more comprehensive cookbook,” Kaul said. Large format.
“The intention of the first [cookbook] was to teach the basic techniques of Chinese cooking using ingredients from the pantry, with some recipes that had a Chinese soul but a more Australian expression. People reacted well to these cheeky Australian-Chinese recipes, and so this second book became a glorious hodgepodge with more unusual yet traditional Chinese recipes.
The book is “halfway to Chinese and halfway to Australia”, adds Hu. “We rooted it in our experience of feeling ‘Chinese’: rejecting our heritage when we were younger because we wanted to fit in with the kids at school and then come back.”
When Kaul and Hu were approached by Murdoch Books about creating a cookbook, they knew the standard appetizer-main-dessert formula wouldn’t cut it. Instead, they used each section to tell a part of their story as Asian Australians.
The book begins with basic techniques (like how to cook rice without a rice cooker) and dishes representing their childhood abroad. Then it transitions into the teenage rebellion phase via “Chinese” dishes (including “snacks that feel a little bad” – like a Sichuan sausage sanga that, admittedly, would be at home in any what a backyard barbie). Finally, the circle is complete with the dishes that speak most of their identity and their family history.
“I never thought I would write something like this to share with the world,” Hu says. “But I did most of my writing one morning at 4 a.m. I woke up and needed to get it out. It was very cathartic. edited, I hadn’t realized how many thoughts there were [that] I haven’t had a chance to share yet. I hope people who have had similar experiences will see something for themselves. It was very natural. »
The insights Hu shares throughout — especially in essay form — tug at Kaul’s heartstrings “because of their real and poignant character.” “She writes about her experience moving to Australia as part of a traditional Chinese family unit, about the expression of affection, about the language,” Kaul says. “His stories [tell] of the experience that many immigrant children share growing up in a Western country. Something that has always bothered me is the large number of ethnic cookbooks written by white authors with this obsession to always make things “easy”. “Easy Japanese.” ‘Noodles made easy.’ Etc. Cookbooks written by people of color have a heart and a soul, a story to tell, whether their recipes are traditional or adapted to the realities of time and place.
“Sometimes the stories we want to tell about our lives are too long to tell, but they are easily eaten up.”
On the recipe side, Kaul was in the driver’s seat. “The only consideration for me was that every recipe in the book had to relate to my life or Jo’s life,” she says. “Each recipe in this book connects me to a time and place in my life.”
For Hu, who says she’s never had dumplings at a restaurant that taste better than the ones her mother makes at home, including a recipe for these was a no-brainer. But it was a bit of a test. “I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to write down a family recipe, but calculating the measurements was tricky,” she says. Another recipe she campaigned for was savory egg custard, which holds a special place in her heart: “I love eggs, and when I was a kid it was my ultimate comfort food over white rice. “.
Recipes such as Roast Duck Noodle Soup (with its descriptions of “glittering roast meats” and “breathtaking duck bone broth”) and Billionaire Fried Rice (which promises “golden shreds of scallops peeking through shiny grains of rice”) – as well as techniques for making iconic condiments and simple broths – are conversational and totally doable for the home cook. With gentle explanations, it’s as if Kaul is with you.
The recipes and stories are all tied together by Hu’s illustrations, a skill she’s been honing for decades. “I’ve always liked to draw, ever since I was little,” she says. “My parents had difficulties when we arrived in Australia… We didn’t have a lot of money and we didn’t have a lot of toys. But I remember having a stack of paper and markers, and I could have hours of fun with that. I always doodled throughout school.
Chinese-ish is filled with intricate designs of ingredients and dishes, and rich chinoiserie-style sections: lavish floral wallpaper dotted with Australian and Chinese flora and fauna. If you look closely enough, you can see a small monkey and a dragon, which represent Kaul and Hu respectively.
You will also be struck by the glorious portraits of authors. The couple worked with photographer Armelle Habib and stylist Lee Blaylock to produce images that captured their fun and playful glamour, Kaul says. Shot on a Monday at 10 a.m., Kaul and Hu look like a million dollars posing in the aisles of an Asian grocer in Footscray. “The four of us would go through the shots at the end of each day of shooting,” Kaul explains, “and we’d say, ‘Wow, that’s like a fashion editorial! We should submit this to Vogue. “
chinese style, published by Murdoch Books, is available online for $39.99.