Inside Shanghai’s Happy Kitchen: Meet Chef Shiyin Wang

 “When moving to Shanghai, I found that fast food or street food, is very different from the way we would make it at home.  It tends to be a lot greasier, contains a lot more MSG and processed flavours.” 

Over coffee, Shiyin Wang  is telling me what inspired him to start Kaixin Cooking, a company that offers healthy Chinese cooking classes. Dressed in a black button-down shirt, he is the picture of professionalism. His responses to my questions are intelligent and thoughtful.

Shiyin after a cooking class.

He says that despite the tendency of many restaurants in Shanghai to use meat in vegetable dishes, Chinese food is naturally vegan: “They are using a lot of vegetables, they are not using many animal products, or none at all.”

Having lived in the USA from the age of five, Shiyin moved back to his city of birth five months ago. His interest in cooking was sparked at a young age, since his parents’ busy careers meant he was often responsible for preparing his own breakfast: “I would add eggs to ramen noodles at different times to test what is the best result,” he says with a smile.  

He tells me that meals he eats with his family mostly consist of whole foods and natural ingredients. 

Learning that many people, especially expats, want to explore Chinese cuisine but cannot always find enough healthy food options around the city, he spotted a business opportunity:  “I wanted to teach a class that was more about the kind of cooking that I did growing up.”

He says that the principles in The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen, greatly influenced his health philosophy.  These are “eating whole food, mostly plants, and not too much.”

Inside the kitchen: Ingredients for cooking class.

On the subject of diets, he feels that many people conflate being healthy with being slim.  Having followed the Keto diet before, he explains that although it has useful principles like avoiding processed sugar, it was not a sustainable diet for him: “I was craving vegetables and I felt that the diet wasn’t really allowing me to eat things like tomatoes, Brussels sprouts or things that just have some carbs, but to me seem very healthy.”

Quitting Keto and returning to the recipes of his childhood meant eating a balanced set of vegetables and a wide variety of foods again. “It just made me feel better,” he says.

We discuss the advantages of living in China.  He mentions challenges faced by minorities in the States:  “My experience in the US was that there is an extreme pressure to assimilate into being American…There is always this feeling that anywhere I go I sort of have to think about:  Is this person treating me a certain way; or thinking about me a certain way; or do they have some assumptions about me because of the fact that I am Chinese?”

Living in China, he does not feel this burden anymore: “I could just be myself and be anybody that I wanted to be,” he says

His face lights up when he tells me about regular visits to his family in Shanghai since he was 12. Reconnecting with them is another advantage to being back: “Every time I would visit as a kid they would just show this unconditional love for me. I realized as I was getting older I was kind of taking that for granted without being able to really understand who they were and how their lives were.It was really nice to come back to Shanghai being able to be with them again.”  

We move from the topic of family to friendships.  He tells me how a group of friends he had whilst living in Los Angeles helped him push his cooking skills to a higher level. At the time, he worked as a researcher at a solar energy company: “I really enjoyed the job at the solar energy company and I wanted to also explore having dinners where we would talk about the environment, eat healthy food, attempt to eat food that is sustainable.”

These gatherings taught him to deal with technicalities such as keeping food fresh and cooking multiple courses in large quantities.

“My friend group there really challenged each other to improve our cooking.  When you challenge yourself, that’s when you learn the most,” he says.

Shiyin says he loves hosting dinner parties since they are a way for people to connect.  He chose the business name “Kaixin”, which is Mandarin for “happy”, because this is the emotion he wants people to experience when cooking and eating together.  

“I feel like the cooking itself really bring people together. I feel like there’s something about the cooking itself that puts people more relaxed and gets them to open up a little.”

Inside the kitchen: Winter-melon soup

For more details on the cooking classes, connect with Shiyin on WeChat:

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