World Chefs: Compestine brings Eastern balance to Western kitchens

Tue Sep 9, 2014 6:05am EDT
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By Andrea Burzynski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chinese-born chef Ying Chang Compestine is on a mission to demystify Asian cooking and help westerners enjoy some of the flavors and benefits of the food of her childhood.

The San Francisco-based Compestine has published 19 books, including an adult novel and children's books. Her latest, “Cooking with an Asian Accent: Eastern Wisdom in a Western Kitchen,” offers ways to infuse healthy meals with Asian flavors, minus the obscure ingredients and equipment.

She also folds in Chinese philosophy about cooling, or yin, and warming, yang, foods, and eating according to the seasons.

Compestine talked to Reuters about cultural differences in the kitchen, lessons from her family, and why it is easier than ever to give meals an Asian twist.

Q: You started out as a translator in China. How did you get into cooking?

A: I came to this country for graduate school and I was a poor graduate student at the University of Colorado. I really missed Chinese food, and I started cooking. At that time in Boulder, there weren’t many authentic Chinese restaurants, and I didn’t have the money to eat out either. I started realizing that all those years of watching my grandmother and traveling around China gave me a lot of knowledge that I didn’t realize.

Q: What are the biggest differences between Asia and the West when it comes to food?

A: Our parents and grandparents always talk about yin and yang - it’s almost like it’s in our blood. In the wintertime when it’s cold, no one is going to drink a cold glass of water or eat a plate of watermelon, because it’s cooling ... you shouldn’t eat cucumber on a snowy December day.   Continued...

Chinese-born chef Ying Chang Compestine is seen in a handout picture taken in August 2013. REUTERS/Ben Krantz Studio/Handout via Reuters