AIA Live: An Interview with Celebrity Chef Jeremy Pang and Actor Andie Chen
On 2nd August, life insurance group AIA hosted its first ever regional online health and wellness event, spanning 13 markets and headlined by AIA’s Global Ambassador David Beckham. Over the full day online event, over 30 sessions were held to inspire, motivate and educate people across the region to promote AIA’s commitment to living Healthier, Longer, Better Lives.
Not only did David Beckham open and close the event with stories about how his family have been coping, but the lineup also included stars such as celebrity chef Jeremy Pang having a ‘cook-along’ with Singaporean actor/host Andie Chen, as well as other global celebrities and influencers joining in. We caught up with stars Jeremy Pang and Andie Chen on how they’ve been coping with the pandemic, what it’s been like preparing for the show, and how best to stay sane and healthy during these trying times. Read the interviews in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: The last time we met up with you, it was during AIA’s 2019 Glow Festival also promoting health and wellness, where you conducted some dim sum making workshops. You’ll be happy to know that we now know how to make better Siew Mai! How have things changed for you over the last year, be it in your personal or professional life? Have you been embarking on any new personal projects or set new goals for yourself?
Jeremy: I’m very glad that you are still practicing your siew mai and on your way to finding the true dim sum masters within you! COVID-19 has clearly changed things for everyone and for any business in the hospitality industry, it’s been incredibly difficult.
We started the year very positively business wise, but it’s been tough! The most important personal ‘project’ for me over lockdown has definitely been getting my three-year-old son to eat properly. Dinner can be like a whirlwind of emotions with kids, as many parents would know, but the four months of lockdown have been a godsend from that perspective. I’ve made the time to get him to make as much of the food with me as possible, which at least two to three times a week he has been interested in. We’ve made a lot of homemade pizza, simple scrambled eggs, and jing daan (steamed egg) which is now one of his favourites with what he calls “normal rice” (just steamed rice as he says “don’t do anything too fancy with it, Daddy”).
What I’ve re-learnt, both as a father and as a chef, is that you have to think about all the things your kid likes and then use those as your base ingredients if you want to introduce anything new to their diet! So, for example, I know that out of all the vegetables, his favourites are carrots, celery, cucumber and green beans. He loves chicken or fish but isn’t that keen on other meats. He’s been watching the Disney movie Ratatouille quite a bit and has since then shown an intrigue into what saffron is, so I made a saffron chicken stew with celery, carrots, and green beans the other day which he wolfed down. Before COVID-19, he wouldn’t have touched that dish! Steamed egg has been a revelation for him too as it’s fun and easy to make and it “wobbles”! It’s also an easy one to sneak blocks of silken tofu into the dish without him knowing. All in all, my “feeding mini me” project has been incredibly satisfying!
Bakchormeeboy: School of Wok is a cooking school, where ideally, lessons are held in person. How have you managed to adapt the business model and still do what you do best even during these times of social distancing?
We have made some clear pivots in the business over this time, and when it comes to the cookery school, our YouTube and online following has supported us tremendously. Interestingly, in the first eight weeks of lockdown, our sales of cookery classes moved quite quickly to customers buying our School of Wok (SOW) merchandise and kitchenware products, which helped a little. The cookery school itself had to stay closed for the best part of four months which has been a real hit, but we quickly started up an exclusive membership area on our YouTube channel, where I have been doing livestream cooking tutorials and Q&A’s on a weekly basis to our most avid fans.
My operations team of chef tutors are now also running online cooking classes on a regular basis and demand is growing by the week, which is lovely to see! As we also do a lot of filming and video production for ourselves, lockdown has fast tracked the launch of our very own video production agency, which we have called Curious Crab Productions: it’s a boutique production house concentrating on food and travel only, using our first-hand knowledge and expertise to help other businesses thrive with online content creation.
This is something that is really helping our work with AIA too. In fact, it’s AIA supporting us to always create engaging food content, and bringing us over to Asia over the last few years that has honestly shown us what we are capable of! So thank you, AIA, for setting us off in the right direction.
Bakchormeeboy: Can you share with us how you prepared for this event, especially when it comes to bringing out your personality and keeping the audience engaged even online?
Jeremy: The only way to prepare for an event like AIA Live is to get excited by it! First things first is that so long as I know that we have all the right ingredients in for the recipes, and all the right equipment (which is easy for us, as we have so much School of Wok equipment these days!), everything else is easy and fun! The thing that motivates me when cooking in front of camera outside of that is not being too prepared. I was really excited for my own cooking challenges, especially the mystery box challenge and setting Andie Chen his “semi-complicated” challenge. He told me he can’t cook or doesn’t cook, but one of my mottos is that if you know how to eat, you certainly know how to cook deep down, you just need to be taught well—and that’s where I come in! I’ve found with online streams that so long as I don’t stop talking, the audience tends to stay engaged.
Bakchormeeboy: This time round, you cooked with Andie Chen. Could you explain how this worked and did you have discussions on what the menu would be like? How was the experience co-cooking with someone online for you?
Jeremy: Andie had no idea what he was making. All he knew was that I will be setting him a challenge to cook something semi-complicated. I had to work out myself what “semi-complicated” actually meant! But essentially, I’ve curated a special steamed salmon dish that sits in line with Andie’s eating habits that I hope he will enjoy cooking and more importantly, enjoy eating! It’s healthy but packs a punch of flavour. He had a short amount of time to cook the dish up, but I only had five minutes to explain how to cook the dish to him, before he has to embark on the journey himself. I watched over him with beady eyes over the call and we were both allowed one lifeline to help him out if he gets stuck. Most importantly, it’s a whole lot of fun in the kitchen from 6000 miles away!
Bakchormeeboy: They say a hungry man is an angry man. What’s some of the most common mistakes people make when planning for what to cook, or misconceptions about cooking and eating healthy?
Jeremy: Let me correct you, if I may! In my family, a hungry man is a Pangry man! Eating healthily shouldn’t just necessarily mean eating salads and raw food every day in my mind. There needs to be a balance. Whether cooking one plate of food or a whole table of food for the family to share, it needs to be well balanced in flavour, texture and colour. Quite often, balancing out meaty foods with different textures such as crunchy vegetables or even melt-in-your-mouth aubergine, tofu or other veggie dishes can completely change the meal that you cook at home and makes a meal even more mouth-watering.
Jeremy: Don’t kid yourself if trying to eat healthier by going on full-blown diets that never last. Make small changes that make the biggest impact—this means you don’t have that FOMO feeling and can continue to eat tasty food, whilst feeling better after a meal. A simple example would be something like, we love having freshly made pancakes on the weekend. So over lockdown I started to make wholemeal spelt scotch pancakes (where I swapped out white plain flour with wholemeal spelt flour) and also swapped out caster sugar with granulated coconut sugar and the pancakes taste amazing—so good in fact that we always have a full batch in the freezer to keep us going throughout the week now too!
Bakchormeeboy: How do you personally see the F&B scene changing, or hope to see it change, now that we’re in a ‘new normal’ after the coronavirus?
Jeremy: It’s such a tough industry at the best of times. Perhaps there is scope for the new and exciting street food vendors or younger generation who may be more willing to take risks on home delivery services to up their game! I also hope that the local, independent, family-run businesses who get return customers back time and time again manage to survive these times as they are my true inspiration when it comes to being in the F&B world! Wouldn’t it be lovely to see a really traditional, old hawker stall packing up their chicken rice and nasi lemak for a next generation delivery driver to then pick up and deliver to your door? I’m not over in SG, but I would imagine that’s already happening: Older and younger generations working together without any anxieties—that’s the dream!
Bakchormeeboy: It’s great to see companies like AIA coming forward and still doing initiatives like this. How important is it to continue having these events?
Jeremy: AIA Live and events like this are super important! We need events that bring us together and remind us that wherever you are in the world, through good times and bad, there is always a community of people who care and we are enjoying life, whilst staying healthy will keep us all going. One of my neighbours who lives in my little close here in London is 95 years old, has been through the last world war, and says the thing that is worse about a lockdown like this is that you can’t even hug anyone. At least in the wars, you could hug each other if you were scared or needed some love! Events like this are one big community hug, right? So keep them coming—the world needs this right now! That’s why events like AIA Live, where people from all over the world can gather and celebrate health and wellbeing, are important. Share the love, and we’ll all live healthier, longer, and better lives.
Bakchormeeboy: What’s your top piece of advice for staying/eating healthy and well during these trying times?
Jeremy: Don’t just eat or share your mealtimes with the family or loved ones, cook with them too. If the whole family enjoys being in the kitchen together, you are bound to have a more balanced meal at the end of it, and even better, you can enjoy hours of fun in the kitchen and won’t even notice lockdown as the time will fly by so quickly! Oh, and go for a run in between if you can. Simple lockdown message: Prep, Run, Cook, Eat!
Bakchormeeboy: It’s been a tough time for everyone during the COVID-19 period, and you’re likely to have had your hands full taking care of the family over the last few months. What’s something new you’ve learnt you never expected or think you’d never have discovered about yourself or your family outside of these circumstances?
Andie: I have learnt that kindergarten teachers have a very noble job because having kids at home 24/7 is no joke. Having kids in school all day, I am pretty sure these teachers have a lot on their plate. On a serious note, I have learnt that the more quality time you spend with your children, the more you can guide them to become the kind of person you want them to be. The importance of quality time became pretty obvious to me during the circuit breaker period, as it became a way for Kate and I to shape our children’s lives more closely and meaningfully.
On a personal level, I learnt that bad habits form much quicker than good ones. So during circuit breaker, you break out of old routines and have new ones that may not necessarily be good for you. It’s easier to just kick back and relax when you cannot do your favourite sports, go to the gym or work, compared to having the discipline to work out. I’ve realised how easy it is to form bad habits like watching too much TV or playing a lot of video games so I try to remind myself to keep my good habits like keeping fit and staying healthy while we embrace new norms of staying home and safe distancing.
Bakchormeeboy: Even during this period, you’ve managed to keep busy, regularly uploading videos to YouTube across your various series. As someone who’s been doing this for a few years now, would you say it was easy to adapt to the “new normal”, where everyone has been forced to go digital, or is it in fact, difficult, with the new restrictions and surge in ‘competition’ with other content creators?
Andie: I do feel that going digital is inevitable. This COVID-19 situation did fast-track that. In my line of work, I am doing online videos and I will continue to do them partly because I see this shift happening for long. So to answer this question, yes, I definitely do feel that it has been easier for me to adapt. But I also do think that for my line, not a lot has changed even with different platforms like Netflix challenging traditional TV.
Bakchormeeboy: How do you stay positive and persevere through such a challenge even when the odds seem stacked against you?
Andie: COVID-19 has financially affected many people, including me. In my industry, I feel there are always good times and bad. One director actually told me before that everybody should be as comfortable as they are in both times. So to me, this is just one of those down times. So I try not to spend money unnecessarily and instead, I devoted more time towards my family and pursuing personal projects that I have always wanted to do but have never really gotten to. It has given me a lot of time for self-improvement and creating personal systems to organise my life and work which I find very fruitful.
Bakchormeeboy: Much of the circuit breaker period has seen Singaporeans coming out and being more appreciative of what they have, or showing kindness in that they’re trying to look out more for each other. How do you think or hope COVID-19 changes our behaviour towards each other in future?
Andie: I think while Singaporeans and a lot of people around the world are more appreciative and showing kindness, I believe it has more to do with who you already are as a person, and how you basically face this situation. Personally, I don’t think COVID-19 actually changes our behaviour. If anything, it is giving us a clearer view of who we are as a person and if it is not the kind of person we want to be, then now more than ever is the time to do something.
Bakchormeeboy: You are always so passionate in what you do, and the energy you put into things you love is well known in the industry. Could you share with us, what is your passion/relationship with food? Everyone needs to eat to survive per se, but for you, what are your weaknesses, and how do you overcome them?
Andie: I think if I am going to share my story with food, it’s going to be like a three-hour podcast! To start, I was brought up in an environment where processed food and junk food were the norm. So I had a lot of instant noodles and canned food every day. My meals were not balanced— they had very little vegetables and whole foods. These unhealthy habits eventually led me to develop an autoimmune disorder. This is partly genetics but a huge part of it has to do with my lifestyle. But I was young and I had no idea, right? My autoimmune disorder came with 20 different types of allergies, such as towards dairy, gluten, nuts and many others. I had so many allergies that there was a time where I didn’t even know what they are, so I had to go through a period where I could eat only rice, meat and vegetables. So no bubble tea, nothing sweet and that was really horrible! But I was very determined because I kept falling sick and had no other choice.
So my relationship with food used to be bad as it was indulgent. But now, I am in a lifelong journey towards recovery, where I have a much better hold of my cravings and my diet is much healthier than what it used to be. It now consists of about 70-80% plant-based food and 30% high protein meats. While I’m not a foodie, I’m all for eating whatever is healthy for me especially when it tastes great!
Bakchormeeboy: For this event, you cooked with Jeremy Pang. How has it been? What’s the process like? When you first met him, did you imagine him to be who he you’d imagine him to be?
Andie: First of all, it was a great opportunity to be a part of a regional wellness event like AIA Live where we—together with AIA’s global ambassador, David Beckham, ambassadors from all over Asia and fellow celebrities from Singapore Andrew Marko and Amanda Chaang—came together for this one-day online event to encourage individuals and families from all over the world to live healthier, longer, and better lives.
When it comes to my session with Jeremy, I had no idea what to expect when I learnt I was working with him. We only e-met on the day of our production but I was very surprised because he was friendly and passionate in what he does—you can tell. He’s successful, not just because he’s a very good chef but also because he communicates well with the people he works with and I appreciate that. He’s a leader guiding me through the cook-along and it was an honour to be taught by a world-renowned chef like him. I really enjoyed it—especially the meal I made. Who knew it was that simple to make a healthy and delicious salmon dish? Plus, he’s humorous and I hope that I will get to meet him soon, in person. To me, he’s a friend already so I am really hoping I can meet him in the future.
Bakchormeeboy: You are an expert in front of a camera, whether it’s shooting a film, commercial or doing content creation. But how different is this? How do you make yourself relatable and more importantly grab the audience’s attention?
Andie: If you ask the people around me or the people that I work with, I think they would agree when I say I am not an expert for screen. I am actually an extreme introvert who can spend days and hours alone in my room, doing my own things and not meeting anybody. And I am very happy with that. It’s actually harder for me to be outside and being on the production set. But when I am on set, I can be very comfortable when I am sharing things I am passionate about. So that’s how I make myself more relatable—by showing who I am and educating myself on things I am not sure about if I want to express any point of view. I do my research to understand things a little bit more before giving any opinion. That combination of having some research and providing my very honest and personal point of view has garnered me a very different fan base from what I had in my acting career. These are the people who have actually watched my content online. I am very happy to have them and converse with them. These are people I would love to be friends with.
Bakchormeeboy: What’s your top advice for staying healthy and well during these trying times? What is one recipe we all should try?
Andie: Health has been my top priority for about seven years now. As someone who grew up to be a very unhealthy person who only learned to be healthier over time, my advice on making maximum, lasting impact on your health is taking a few meaningful steps that could change it for the better. In my case, I have been trying to take note of all the things I have done so far because I have probably done like a million ways to stay fit and healthy but 90% of them were less than helpful. So you have to break it down to five things: Choose your food wisely, sleep enough and sleep well, exercise regularly, fast if you can, and lastly—this is what I have been doing recently—do breathing exercises. Breathwork has brought my health to another level, and I think it’s something that not much people know about yet but eventually people will. So if you are reading this, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take a deep, long breath—six seconds in and six seconds out—and try to make that a habit.
If you’ve watched me on AIA Live, you would know I am the last person you should be asking for a recipe! But, if I could share and cook on my own like when I am overseas for production or have periods of time when I am alone, I usually just cook a lot of stews and soups where you can just put some seasonings, make a broth and throw everything you want to eat in them. This may be good for people who don’t really want to cook but want to eat healthy. If you can cook, great. But if you can’t, cooking a soup or steaming something (which I did when I cooked along with Jeremy) or light stir-frying can be things you can pick up in under an hour. It will serve you well when you are on your own cooking for your families and loved ones too.
Check out more videos from AIA on their Healthy Living YouTube channel