Smalltalk: Anthony Hoy Fong, Celebrity Chef

The Auckland-born chef talks laundry, icecream disasters and why he puts his name on plastic bags

Anthony Hoy Fong, attempting to crack the celebrity chef circuit. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Anthony Hoy Fong, attempting to crack the celebrity chef circuit. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Not every Kiwi chef can say they've cooked for the President of the United States, worked with basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal and appeared on Oprah. Anthony Hoy Fong can though. Life is good for the boy from Mt Roskill who once ran his family's fruit and vege store. Now based in New York, he has appeared on Iron Chef America and recently set up Top Chef University to help young, aspiring cooks.

I'd call myself adventurous. I once bought a one-way ticket to New York, knew no one, spent three weeks with a crazy room-mate in a hostel in Times Square that I found on Craigslist. I wanted to work in New York but didn't have a job or even a place to live. I thought I'd just find somewhere when I go there - typical laid-back Kiwi attitude. It turns out New York is one of the most expensive and hardest places in which to find an apartment. After the hostel, I lived with a crazy room-mate in the world's smallest apartment in the theatre district for two years - it was the only option I had in the end.

I write my name on everything. I come from a big family, big school, and work in big kitchens, so my name has always gone on everything. It'll stick with me forever, I think.

I don't separate my whites and colours. Doing laundry in New York is a pain in the ass. There's just no room for laundries in apartments, so you either do it in the communal laundry of the building or sit at a laundromat down the road for two hours every weekend. I had some disasters at the start, with whites becoming pink or green ... I figured out pretty quickly the easiest solution was to avoid buying whites (except for my chef coats of course, which now go to the drycleaners) because there was no way in hell I was separating and doing two loads.

I travel a lot and I've had my fair share of disasters. One time an airline lost my suitcase and when it did turn up three days later the whole thing was completely soaked through, as if they'd thrown it in a pool. I actually think they'd just left it out in the rain on the tarmac somewhere.

I quit my job and spent a ton of money to go to culinary school. Not everyone can do that, so I wanted to bring that "culinary school" experience to the masses. I created Top Chef University [an online, video-based school taught by real chefs], which can be done when you want, where you want and at your own pace.

I hung out with Shaquille O'Neal for six weeks in Miami on a project re-designing school cafeteria meals for a Government-led health initiative. He's really funny, super-business-savvy - and even taller in real life than on TV! Oh yeah, and I cooked for Obama at the White House too.

My difficult years were opening and running the family business, Fruit World Silverdale. Working with perishable products, long retail hours, a large staff, big volumes and heavy labour at a relatively young age was a lot of responsibility and hard work.

There is no food I don't like or won't try but I can't handle eating waxy green beans when they squeak against your teeth - gives me the shudders just thinking about it.

I thought 'what the hell am I doing?' when I was on Iron Chef America and my icecream had frozen too hard and wouldn't come out of the machine. I added a little orange liqueur to thin it out, gave it a good whisk to re-emulsify and the
dish I served became creme anglaise instead of icecream ... it was delicious. c

Anthony Hoy Fong appears in the Watties Food in a Minute TV segments from this month.

- NZ Herald

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