Monday, June 11, 2012

Food Hero Tuesday: Katie Amara Forster

Note from the Editor: Every Tuesday, TFT HK will bring you a post or article from/about one of our local or global food heroes. These are people who inspire us, and whose visions align with the values that TFT espouses and promotes. This week's post is an interview with Katie Amara Forster, HK PR guru, restaurant launcher, food writer/editor, and foodie. Katie is currently a Director at Golin Harris; has written pieces for Hip Hong Kong, Crave, and Foodie; and has edited numerous food and wine books (she's even ghostwritten for Joel Robuchon!). Katie, we at TFT HK salute you!

Katie in the kitchen!

Hi Katie! Ok, first thing's first: tell us about yourself!

I was born in Singapore and raised in Hong Kong bar a rather unfortunate stint at UK boarding school. I graduated with an English Literature degree but am a lover of all things creative, not just the written word. I travel more than most but less than I’d like. I don’t really have one exceptional skill… I generally just live life trying to create beautiful things whether that be through words, art, music or food! I work in public relations and I think it ties in with that motto – my job it to take something unknown and seemingly uninteresting, and create a compelling story about it.

That's an excellent and admirable way to approach life. Have you always had a love of food? Were there any formative experiences that shaped you as a foodie?

I come from a long line of foodies, whether they be chefs or eaters! My mother is Thai and my father British so the range of food on our table was always diverse – my mother’s northern Hang Lay curry is practically world famous. My father, on the other hand, could burn water; but when it comes to cheese, wine or game, he is a true connoisseur. Both my parents pushed me to try everything – there was no room for a fussy eater in the Forster household. A lot of people are squeamish about offal but thanks to Mum and Dad, I am not. If lambs kidneys or sweetbreads are on the menu, nothing else stands a chance – delicious!

I have always been a lover of food, but uninspiring British boarding school meals really pushed me to explore gastronomy. My parents kept a small apartment not too far from my school – my brother and I would flee the confines of our boarding houses on the weekend, even if we only had a sixteen hours of free time. Whereas most fifteen-year-olds would take the opportunity to order pizza, I experimented in the kitchen. I remember not having time to make it to the supermarket one weekend, and whipping up something similar to spaghetti aioli using whatever I had in my cupboards and a few leaves from my trusty basil plant. It was delicious! We ate three bowls each. I knew at that point that cooking would always play a huge role in my life. By the time I left school I was hosting regular dinner parties for my girlfriends, and when I applied to university accommodation, I insisted on being self-catering. By my third year I was working on berry reductions to compliment seared venison and such like.

So it seems the wretched boarding school meals were a blessing in disguise! And when did you start writing about food?

I started writing about food in the journalistic sense a couple of years ago – I actually work in PR so my food writing is a favoured hobby for me. I’m lucky that food features heavily in my day job too. One of my first clients was Godiva Chocolatier – I got to spend hours and hours writing about chocolate! These days I work with a lot of hotels and restaurants, so F&B is still part of my day to day and I get to eat out a lot as a result! I think that sharing a meal with someone is a wonderful way to spend time and getting to further share that experience is a bonus for me. Of course my true love is sharing recipes with readers – helping people to create something spectacular in their own homes is a pretty good feeling.

What do you love and hate about Hong Kong as a food city?

I love the wet markets – food waste really irritates me so the option to buy only what you need from a market vendor really appeals to me. I also love dai pai dongs and local hole-in-the-wall eateries. There is a Thai shop on Graham Street that serves noodles at lunch time. You have to battle with the owner’s cat but it’s worth it – authentic Thai food is tough to find in this town!

I hate what inflated rental prices are doing to the restaurant scene.  Establishments that used to offer affordable meals to customers are now forced to either drastically increase their prices or reduce the quality of their ingredients…so either way value for money in unachievable.

Hong Kong supermarkets also infuriate me as they are so oblivious to the state of the environment. I nearly lose it every time I shop – I bring my own bag but the cashier still attempts to individually wrap every item in a plastic bag. Supermarkets seriously underestimate human intelligence here...rather than let the customer pick out their own "four for the price of three" apples and pop them in a biodegradable paper bag, they stuff them into a plastic tray and wrap it in eight layers of cellophane. I write complaint letters all the time but nothing seems to change.

I completely agree with those frustrations. We should all follow your lead, and start petitioning for a reduction in grocery store waste. What type of food do you generally cook at home?

I cook anything and everything but I’d say Italian and Mexican food are the types that come most naturally to me as I find working with the typical flavours and ingredients very easy – I don’t have to think too hard about what I’m doing or follow a recipe.

I also love slow cooking. I make a ragout with three different meats including foie gras in it. It takes four hours in the oven to get it perfect, but it’s so worth it.

I cook a lot of vegetarian meals these days as my Beloved does not eat meat. I found it tricky at first but his eating preferences have really pushed me to get creative with my cooking. Risottos, pastas and vegetable curries have a strong presence in our household.

The last thing I made was my own muesli mix. I pan roast a mix of grains with cinnamon and then soak them overnight with either milk (almond or regular) or pear juice. In the morning I add grated apple, dark fruits like cherries and blueberries, as well as roasted nuts and seeds, a tablespoon of natural yoghurt and a drizzle of something sweet like a home made compote or rhubarb syrup.

Sounds delicious. Thank you so much for sharing with us!!

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