Her Story: Charlie Kwok

Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

I'm Charlie, a fifteen year old student from Singapore. I'm passionate about culinary art, writing, and drawing - essentially everything that involves creating. I run the blog chockywoky, as well as an Instagram handle under the same name. Charlie's an abbreviation of my first name, by the way.

Since you are 15, you must still be studying. What is the secondary school you are in?

Shh- it's a secret.

What is your favorite subject in school? Why so?

Literature. It stems from my love for books.

What is a typical school day and weekend like for you?

It's usually an early morning with breakfast before heading off the school and returning in the evening. I'll have a snack then before doing my homework and starting on dinner. After dinner it'll be some free time if I have finished with my work.

My typical weekend consists of enrichment courses and unwinding in the form of reading, working on my blog, and of course, recipe testing.

Do any of your friends in school know that you are rather “famous” on Instagram? What do they think about it? 

I wouldn't know, really, since I tend to keep my Instagram under wraps. Still, word got out and now it's usually requests for food!

What is the first dish you have ever made and how old were you when that happened?

I started out with French toast when I was nine. It was pretty good, if I might say so myself.

Are there any inspirational figures that sparked your cooking journey?

My father. He's a fabulous cook.

Are your parents supportive of your passion – food styling and photography? Have they seen your Instagram feed yet? What do they think of it?

I'm very lucky to have parents who are so supportive of my endeavors. They're always there to try my creations and provide feedback.

You are so young and have such a long road ahead of you. What are your aspirations?

Publishing a cookbook would be the ultimate, but for now it's just a continuation of what I'm doing now - cooking and creating. I'd like to write about food too. That'd be fun. But of course, with how the world is like today, the future is still hazy for me.

How did you manage to find time and your passion for food artistry at such a young age?

I make time.

Creative change is quite a broad term. What would you consider as your creative change?

For me, creative change would be anything that inspires a change in mindset or sparks new ideas in people via writing, food, anything art.

Let’s talk about food! Singapore is known as a food paradise in Asia, what are your favourite dishes? Do you know how to make any Singaporean dishes?

Yes indeed - there's so much food in Singapore! I really do like dim sum - it's due to the variety and being able to spend time with my parents. I can cook quite a number of Chinese dishes and am currently learning how to cook salted egg yolk crabs.

We hardly ever see you photograph them. Why do you not do so?

I find it rude to have a phone out when having a meal with others.

In your opinion, what is the greatest difference and similarity between food and art?

Food is art, in my opinion. It's not just about what you eat, but the full sensory experience which accompanies it - visual, olfactory, tactile, and of course, gustatory. It's also about the emotions, effort and passion put into the food. That's very easy to sense.

What do you define “healthy” food as?

Food which makes your body and mind happy.

What is your day-to-day meal plan?

5 meals. Breakfast. Second breakfast. Lunch. Tea. Dinner. Hobbit-hood, here I come.

What made you decide to start preparing/cooking/making food?

I'm usually home alone, and when I got hungry, I didn't want to have to cook a huge portion or have to buy processed food, so it began with a whole lot of single serve recipes, which I still make, of course.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of preparing a dish? What do you do if you mess up while cooking?

The hardest aspect would be getting the timing and temperature right. A perfect example would be steak - you have to get the exact timing and temperature right. It's all about practice and trusting your senses to get it right, I believe. For messing up, I just wing it. Everything usually comes out fine in the end.

What is your go-to/favourite dish that you always make?

Scrambled eggs - it's good for both breakfast and dinner and there are so many variations of cooking it. Plus, you can add in all sorts of extra ingredients - chives, turmeric, shrimp, saffron... The list goes on.

We noticed that you love to make your dishes using wholesome ingredients. What made you decide to use such food items?

I do love experimenting with different sorts of flours and these 'healthier' ingredients. They do give interesting flavors and results that normal all-purpose flour doesn't. Plus, it's obviously better for the body.

Is it expensive to get organic or healthier food in Singapore? Does it put a strain on your allowance?

It is sometimes rather pricey. I've been ranting on about how a small punnet of berries can cost nearly ten bucks! I usually procure them from the market or wholesale - it's slightly less expensive. I'm also lucky that it doesn't really put a dent in my wallet.

How long have you been consuming wholesome foods? Has it benefited your health in any way?

To think of it, I've actually been consuming these foods for nearly my whole life. We seldom cook fried foods as no one wants to clean up (did I mention that that's the worst part of cooking?) and having fruits has always been encouraged in my family. Besides, I'm also trying to prove that eating something besides fast food can be delicious.

Has it changed your perspective towards people who aren’t eating healthily?

Not really. I believe that it's all a matter of personal choices. I won't push it to others - except for that one time when I made my classmate take a vegetable since everything else on her plate was fried. Haha.

Why do you think people assume wholesome food to be “rabbit food”?

It's the salad! The ones with just lettuce and a little meat + dressing. No one wants to eat those! They give healthful foods a bad rep.

What inspires your designs? Are they all planned beforehand?

How food is plated outside. I keep that in mind and go home to try something of a similar layout. And nope. They’re all spontaneous.

How long do you normally take to design a dish? Does anyone help you in the process?

About 5 to 10 minutes? It's twenty minutes of cooking and then that so I can eat my food fresh. It's a one-woman show here.

Your photographs contain quite a number of props such as editorials, books, teacups, kitchen towels, plates etc. What made you decide that you want to include them in the photographs?

My photographs narrate a simple story through these props, telling my audience what I've been doing, such as reading. Basically having something to show that I do have other organs besides my stomach. I do purchase towels and spoons for photography purposes, but the publications and sunglasses etc are for reading and wearing, respectively.

What is one item that you really love and have been including multiple times in your photos?

That one item would be my cutlery collection, which is from all around the world - I don't let anyone near them.

What would you consider a good food photograph?

Something which tells the story of what you're eating without the use of a filter that destroys the entire photograph by making the dish indistinguishable.

What type of equipment do you use to get such great results?

My iPhone 6 and a little help from VSCO.

Are there any photographers that you look up too? Why?

Meghan Faulkner, Juliet Steen and Nana Tsay. They have such, such good usage of lighting and wonderfully curated images. For food photography/Instagram, Jonas Koh and Mandy from Lady and Pups. Jonas makes every cafe in Singapore look so good, and Mandy has this amazing mind that can conjure up such amazing recipes.

How do you think your images help to promote a message of living well and consuming (more) wholesome food?

It tells people that wholesome food can look nice and taste good at the same time, or so I hope.

People might find it tough to shoot a really delicious-looking food photograph, as the food tends to look unappealing after a number of failed shots. Do you have any suggestions for our readers to improve on such skills?

Guys, practice, practice, practice. Just keep taking photographs, learn tips from other photographers and you'll improve over time. In a year, or even months, you're going to look back and say 'this is crap.' when you see your old photos.

Could you tell us more about "The Rituals of...", what this is all about?

It's a project which documents the daily routines of some friends I have around the world. I have a stories from NY, Illiois and Australia thus far. All of them are really interesting!

You love to travel and explore the world, what are some life lessons you have learnt from the various cultures?

Be sensitive to other cultures, try to immerse yourself in their lifestyle, always give their cuisine a go, strange as it may be, and good service is key to an enjoyable trip.

What can we expect from you in the near future?

As I said, the uncertain future. Still, what you can expect is this - the unexpected.