ritakahn is the
creator & host of urban Cravings
a travel documentary series
Urban Cravings immerses you in the world of slow travel. Each season delves into the urban landscapes of a single country, always using food as a gateway to hidden cultural treasures and sustainable innovations.
Question & Answer
What’s your name?
I was born with the name 可涵 [pronounced kě hán]. Until we immigrated to New Zealand when I was 9, when my parents gave me - Rita. Apparently “Foreigners”, as we say in Mandarin when referring to any white person, have trouble pronouncing our ‘strange, foreign’ names. So we make it easier by simply using an English name. And so, Rita was chosen for me. But for a few freewheeling and Alphabet learning months; before we left for NZ, my 20 something year old English teacher thought Michelle was a suitable name. Thank, whatever up there, it didn’t stick.
So then I was just plain Rita from age 9 to about 16 when I decided I like my birth name better and added Kahn to Rita as both my first names. You can tell how long I’ve know someone by what they call me - nowadays, it’s either just Kahn or RitaKahn, but never Rita.
Where are you from?
How did you become interested in food?
I can never truly say where I’m from. We’d have sit over some wine for that. So instead I’ll just say exactly wherever I happen to hang my hat right at that moment. I have been known to say I’m German in a fleeting moment when overcome with the feeling of inclusion with the crew I was travelling with, only to re-think my answer moments later after my initial shock.
But seriously, I spent my youth equally in Taiwan and New Zealand. My Taiwanese knowledge is so weak and lacking compared to my older brother’s that I never can say I fully belong to the Taiwanese culture. I’ve orientated and moulded myself to fit the New Zealand culture for so long that I feel more Kiwi, but there is still an undeniable lack of affiliation there too. And then there are my friends in Australia who are almost like family to me and who see me as an Aussie more than I see myself as one. I’ve also lived there for an equal amount of time. So in the end, I am as much a foreigner in these three places as I am a daughter of the land… which makes me an eternal outsider.
I think being born in Asia. Now, when I say Asia, I do mean the whole continent. We are all just born food-obsessed or at the very least we are groomed to be. It’s in our DNA. The only other body of people that can rival Asians are the Italians and, for some reason, I married one. Once we drove from Milan to Berlin after Christmas with two Italians in the car. We talked about food for 13 hours – nonstop. So my love of food was already inherently there, but the real understanding of food came when I did my 6-month kitchen Stagier in a snooty golf club on Lake Geneva. I was studying Hotel Management at this Hogwartz-esque school further down on the lake. And as part of our first year’s training, we had to be placed in the food and beverage industry for 6 months. Despite previously having been required to cook for our fellow students and having to study the mother-of-all cook books from our eccentrically aging French chef, it was only when I stepped into a professional kitchen that served a classic French Bistro menu for lunch and an equally classic French dinner menu for dinner, that I became truly interested in food.
And look, I didn’t walk away from all this being able to prepare a classic-whatever-sauce-you throw-at-me. I was merely the “salad girl” and the one steaming the rice and putting the pre-cut, pre-steamed, pre quarter-cut radishes in the pan for sautéing. But I did walk away with an impeccable ability to have a neat and precise station with my mis-en-plus in the correct order for a busy plate up dinner session. I knew the order of preparation was as important as making sure you had the right amount of seasoning. I knew the exact steps needed to roll 5000 French Chocolate truffles for club members who had pre-ordered them for the coming Christmas. But what I really wanted to know was how to create the taste of my mother.