A passion for food which was born in a Fife takeaway has sent Nick Kwek all around the world tasting different cuisine.
Nick’s first taste of the fiery delights of Asian cuisine was being perched on the countertop watching his parents tossing food in the wok.
“I remember as a toddler sitting on the end of the bunkers in the kitchen,” Nick says, “Just watching these like high flames come out the woks.
“I was always just surrounded by food, the smells of food.
“My whole family is obsessed with food.
“My dad has raised us with a slogan that we basically we live to eat, not eat to live.”
The Chinese-Malaysian takeaway was right next-door to his parents’ home, meaning he was never far from the kitchen.
Nick’s parents ran the Rickshaw in Leslie, and then the Wok & Spice in St Monans, which still has the same name.
“My early memories of working in the kitchen, I was terrified of the deep fat fryer,” Nick recalls with a laugh.
“I kept worrying – what will happen if my fingers go into the burning oil? And what if this banana fritter explodes in my face?
“I distinctly remember de-shelling and de-veining prawns and learning to do that at such a young age.
“That’s quite a fiddly thing to do at age 11.
“You get the raw king prawns, their whiskers, their pincers and all their legs. I remember how cold my hands were and how sharp the prawns were.”
Nick would also help out wherever he could, mopping the floor and bagging the prawn crackers.
‘Mind-blowing’ to have his own BBC show
Now, a few years on, and growing up with the food industry on your literal doorstep has clearly made an impact on Nick.
The 34-year-old Fifer has his own show with the BBC, where he travels around tasting what different countries have to offer.
He recalls: “When I was growing up, on my dad’s days off, we’d watch travel food shows together.
“Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver…
“My dad would always say, ‘why don’t you go do something like that?’ I remember saying ‘I’d love to’.
“Now to actually be doing that? It’s mind-blowing.”
When Nick and his dad sat around the TV to watch his first episode air, Nick said it didn’t feel real.
“I couldn’t quite believe what was happening,” he says.
“I was sat with my family watching it live on the TV, going – ‘oh my goodness, that’s me‘.
“That’s really me on the TV, talking food, eating food, talking about food. And, most excitingly, meeting the people making the food and meeting these chefs in far-flung geography.
“It’s such a privilege to be able to do that. I do pinch myself some times, thinking ‘I can’t believe this is happening’.”
‘It’s had a fundamental impact on how I feel about, see, eat and cook food’
Growing up around Asian cuisine has also impacted Nick’s palate.
“It’s had a fundamental impact on how I feel about, see, eat and cook food,” he says.
“Eating exotic foods and hot curry growing up means I love chilli and spices – and incorporate chilli flakes, chilli oil and sauce in a lot of my day-to-day meals. Sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, rice wine and sambal are cupboard staples.”
Nick adds: “Because of my parents cooking and the Asian dishes we’d have, I also grew up eating meat off the bone, and chicken skin was never discarded in our house – and the bones are used for stock or to make congee – a morning rice dish.
“Nothing goes to waste in the Kwek households. We were encouraged to try everything growing up so there isn’t anything I don’t eat – I love all food!
“Overall I think my heritage and upbringing has made me more adventurous, curious and fascinated about food.”
Fife’s Nick Kwek has done the hard yards
And it’s thanks to the years working in the takeaway kitchen in Fife that Nick is able to understand the chefs he meets all around the world.
“What was really great about that experience was seeing what it’s actually like to graft and work hard in the kitchen,” he says.
“I think that’s really crucial, because then when we go to film with chefs, I feel like I can relate to them on another level because I’ve experienced [it] myself.
“When we’re out filming, we’re careful not to disturb them. And I can tell before the producers or directors can when we need to get out of the kitchen because the chef’s going to kick off, or whatever.”
Nick has travelled to Turkey for the TV show, experiencing the mix of cultural influences there.
He can can only hint at what is coming next.
“The wheels are in motion for places quite far away,” Nick says.
“All I’ll say is – we’re looking East.”
You can watch Discovering the World’s Table on BBC iPlayer.