Seeking Hunan food: A chef’s search for the spicy flavors of his ancestors

Aug 28, 2020

Chef Zhou Yongle traces his family roots to China’s Hunan Province, where people enjoy their food with a spicy kick.

Who influenced the flavors you love today? For Zhou Yongle, it was his grandmother.

The chef grew up in an aristocratic family in Shanghai. They lived in a large house, and maids would constantly watch his back. “I felt annoyed as a kid,” he recalls. “The kitchen was my shelter from the adults.”

His grandmother was from Hunan, a province in central China famous for its spicy, punchy flavors. She was Zhou’s guide to appreciating good food.

Hunan cuisine is known for its liberal use of spices.
Hunan cuisine is known for its liberal use of spices. / Photo: Youku

“The food my grandmother ate was especially spicy,” he says. “I wanted to find out if it was because she had a strong palate or because the dish itself was supposed to be this way.”

(Read more: At New York’s Hunan Slurp, recreating home with a bowl of noodle soup)

The question led him to Hunan Province, to rediscover his family roots, meet his distant relatives, and learn the cooking techniques of his ancestors. Follow his journey in the video above.



Footage: Youku 云集将来

Script: Tiffany Ip

Narration: Dai Qian

Editor: Nicholas Ko

Mastering: Victor Peña