We caught up with Michael Zee, whose beautiful debut cookbook SymmetryBreakfast: Cook-Love-Share stole our hearts as soon as we got our hands on a copy of it, and ever since it’s been as much of a sensation on our bookshelves as it is on Instagram. Read on to hear Michael talk about his favourite recipes from the book, who inspires him in the kitchen, and the best breakfast he’s ever been cooked.
Can you tell us a bit more about SymmetryBreakfast: Cook-Love-Share?
It’s a few things: my relationship with Mark told through our time spent at breakfast, the places we’ve been and the things we’ve seen, but also how food influences and reflects our culture, where our traditions come from and about breaking down some boundaries.
If you had to pick one recipe to show off what your book will be about, which one would it be and why?
Mohinga – a Burmese breakfast soup with vermicelli noodles, catfish, lemongrass, ginger, egg and sliced Youtiao. Fresh and incredibly fragrant. I wanted to make writing the book a democratic process and invited my followers from all over the world to submit their favourite breakfast dishes.
Here at The Happy Foodie, we’re totally obsessed with cookbooks. Can you tell us a bit about the favourites in your collection?
My favourite all time cookbook is The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook, which was written by Howard Austen who was Gore Vidal’s partner for 40 years.
The recipes are inspired by classic Hollywood films but are seeded with endless and brilliant innuendo.
I also have a copy of The First American Cookbook by Amelia Simmons, first published in 1796. It’s full of optimism and wonder, with new ingredients like cornmeal and potash, a precursor to baking powder. It must have been an extraordinary time to be a cook.
To find out more about Michael’s Cookbook Collection, click here for an exclusive tour of his bookshelf!
Is there an ingredient you are really enjoying cooking with at the moment?
Beef Dripping from James Whelan, I use it whenever I make cornbread or roast potatoes and it’s absolutely exquisite.
What excites you about the British food world at the moment?
That so much of it is by young people and is driven by passion. Having said that, there is some awful experimentation going on but, given time, it will mature into something spectacular I’m sure.
What’s your comfort food?
A couple of freshly steamed char siu bao.
What’s the nicest breakfast someone else has cooked for you?
After almost four years you’d expect Mark to have made breakfast for me!
In 2009 I was travelling through China with my sister and our friend Simon. We were hiking up Mount Emei, the highest of the four sacred Buddhist mountains. One morning before sunrise, in pouring rain, we stopped off for breakfast. Egg fried rice and a bottle of Coke. I remember being very happy.
Are you from a family of great cooks? How did you get interested in cooking and food?
Father’s side, great cooks. Mother’s side, terrible cooks!
When my paternal grandfather emigrated to Liverpool from Shanghai in the 1930s he opened several Chinese restaurants.
I spent most of my childhood working in one in particular in Huyton, Liverpool, with my Dad who is a great cook. It was really Chinese food for an English palate but it’s where a lot of my passion and interest comes from today.
My Mother is Glaswegian and eats porridge with salt. Enough said.
Where’s your favourite place to eat out?
Tad on Mare Street in Hackney. It’s our local Turkish − cheap and sometimes cheerful.
Let’s play foodie Cluedo. You can cook one dish, for one person, in one location. Who, what and where?
I’d take Christopher Hitchens on a picnic. We’d have lobster and champagne. He’d absolutely hate it.