Author, Broadcaster & Symmetry Breakfast creator

Spend an hour with chef Michael Zee and you will realise he has experienced kitchen-life since the
day he was born. Food and cooking is in his blood, whether working in his father’s Chinese and English Chippies in Liverpool, or teaching himself how to bake for his mum, Michael understands the power of food – how it heals, supports and (in the case of his relationship with his husband), can make breakfast a sacred moment shared between two people in love.

Describe your cooking style

If I am cooking for myself, its slap dash and a little bit chaotic! It was only when I started cooking for my now husband 10 years ago it became this ultra precise creation. A dinner party at my house is usually an extraordinarily elaborate, multi dish banquet with a carefully curated wine and drinks pairing.

Tell us about the new book

It’s a non-encyclopaedic whirlwind tour of China through the meal of breakfast. It’s a reflection of reality, with all the photography shot on location over five years. It’s the gritty detail of everyday life focussing on how 1.4 billion people live their life. I wanted to give readers and cooks a window into a vast culture without the romanticising I see so much with cookbooks on non-European cuisines.

What makes breakfast in China special?

The enormous diversity is remarkable. Before we even get into specific dishes the most special thing about breakfast in China is you can eat something different every day for years. Even when I was at the peak of Symmetry Breakfast I arrived in China and was just amazed by the choice.

How do you create new dishes?

How can recipes be a reflection of the world today? Historically, recipes were born out of necessity, an abundance or shortage of ingredients, a preparation for the winter ahead or symbolic religious representation. One recipe I came up with was for coffee eggs, a spin on the traditional tea eggs and both recipes are in my book.

What cuisines, flavours or techniques are you loving right now?

At the moment we are living in Rome and I am in love with a Filipino restaurant next to the Vatican called Neighbourhood. It’s so comforting, the delicate spice punctuated with vinegar with wonderful friendly service. So many cuisines can be so serious and borderline boring but with Filipino food I feel it’s quite camp!

What are the biggest challenges for chefs at present?

What I hear from chefs from all over the world right now, is they can’t get the staff. From China to Colombia, no one wants to work six double shifts in a hot kitchen for minimum wage, and why should they?
I think unfortunately there was a rockstar, drug fuelled, macho culture over the last 20 years that now every TikTok chef bro aspires to, that hasn’t produced a very positive image for the working environment in hospitality. The industry more than ever needs to show that it cares about its staff and throw its weight behind vocational catering colleges and training to bring in a new generation.

What are your tips for creating the best Chinese food?

Variety is the spice of life, in my cupboard I have maybe ten different types of ‘light’ soy sauce. Different brands and styles, used in a blend or solo will add incredible complexity and nuance.
Using sugar as a seasoning like salt and pepper will also amplify other flavours.
An electric rice cooker, it frees up a burner on the cooker and gives you perfect results every time. There are also many cookbooks written just for a rice cooker and you can even bake in them.