4th December 2017
He’s the charismatic and captivating host who leads Sunnybank Plaza’s food tours. When Tony Ching speaks, you can’t help but listen and be enthralled by his knowledge of food and the stories from his childhood. But who is the man behind Sunnybank Plaza’s food tours?
As a child Tony Ching still remembers helping his mother in the kitchen, while his two older brothers played outside. Even at an early age he had a passion for cooking. It was a passion so strong, he’d later make a 34 year career out of it!
Tony said his parents were both very young when they moved from China to New Zealand where he was born. “My parents were a huge influence and really encouraged my love for cooking. My mother liked to experiment with European cooking, while Dad was the Asian chef of the house. One of his signature dishes were these great, tasty pork spare ribs that he’d steam. I still remember the huge pile of rib bones on the dining table. To this day, I still can’t duplicate that recipe! I don’t know if it’s my memory or something else entirely, but that was my father. He wouldn’t use recipes; it would all be in his head.”
Tony, who describes himself as a determined and positive person, was 17 when he left school and eagerly got his first apprenticeship. “On my first day the chef said ‘Did you have breakfast? Have you had coffee? No? Well feel free to help yourself.’ I looked around the restaurant, and just thought ‘Yes! This is what I want to do!’” he laughs. Since that first apprenticeship, Tony said he’s had odd jobs here and there in the hospitality industry. In the 1980’s he moved to Australia where he worked as an executive chef in 4 and 5 star restaurants, spent 10 years teaching apprentices how to cook, and ran public cooking classes, teaching everything from how to whip up quick and easy Asian dishes to Italian banquets and even how to impress neighbours with gourmet recipes on the barbeque.
These days Tony splits his time between hosting Sunnybank Plaza’s Food Tours and Cooking School, teaching at a hospitality school, cooking at private functions and consulting.
Tony says that when he’s not at work, he likes to keep things simple at home. “As my partner doesn’t work in the hospitality industry, and I do, I estimate I cook about 99% of the time,” he said. “I’ve learnt to be a very efficient cook. I grew up in a poor household and my parents would cook delicious, hearty meals using the most basic of ingredients. They’d stretch out our meals so they’d last for days.”
When he’s not up to his elbows in the kitchen, Tony enjoys getting his hands dirty in the garden, with landscaping a favourite pastime. When reflecting on his career so far he says: “It’s hard to believe it’s now been 34 years since that first apprenticeship. You know it’s my generation, I think, when we start something, we die doing it!” he laughs.