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Influencer develops a taste for Chinese cuisine

By Zheng Wanyin in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-01 08:14
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Max Burns cooks Chinese noodles and hands them out to British people for free in Brighton and Hove, England in 2023. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Orange chicken, salt and pepper chips, sweet and sour pork, fried rice…Max Burns lists several typical Western-style of Chinese dishes that disappoints him. For a 21-year-old British young man who spent his first 13 years in China, those cuisines are far from authentic, but rather a category which is invented to cater to Western preferences.

What also upsets Burns is that the view of Chinese food has been subsequently skewed. Quite a few Westerners recognize that particular type of fare as the whole of Chinese cuisine.

"They almost have no clue about the extent of Chinese cuisine, about how it varies because people forget how big China is. It is a country that has deserts from one side, jungles and sea from the other side. Each area has its unique style of cooking," he says.

"The average Westerners are not as informed and educated as they could be, that is why I would like to do my best."

Burns tries to showcase the richness of Chinese delicacies by vlogging about making Chinese dishes at home, and that variety embodies in his cooking process, from the ingredients and spices to the cooking equipment and cooking methods.

Sometimes, his British friends would join to help. "And quite often, they were shocked by the diversity of Chinese cuisine. They've had a long time to figure out that Chinese food is just a lot more complex. It's always fun to watch their reactions."

The food adventure has helped Burns grow into an influencer with more than three million of subscribers worldwide today.

"So, I can definitely say that I've changed some people's ideas (about Chinese food)."

Interestingly, when Burns first started vlogging in 2016 after moving back to Brighton, England from Beijing, replicating Chinese food at home was a then "stupid idea", as he puts it, because he was never super into cooking. At the time, the videos centered more on explaining aspects of Chinese culture, including movies, snacks, restaurants and more.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United Kingdom and Burns was not able to dine outside, while the stay-at-home order also gave him plenty of time to learn to cook, test, fail in the attempts and try again.

"Then I instantly fell in love," he recalls. "The more l learned about Chinese cooking, the more I got into it."

The cooking journey also serves to maintain his connections to the land where Burns passed his childhood. He always says that he has spent two-thirds of his life in China.

"My mom is Bulgarian, my dad is English. They met each other in China. I was born in Bulgaria in 2003 but I would have been born in China if it wasn't for SARS. When I was 18 days old, we flew to Qingdao (a city in East China's Shandong province)."

"I spent six years in Qingdao and seven years in Beijing. I had a Chinese ayi (babysitter). I went to Chinese schools with all Chinese teachers and Chinese peers."

From a young age, when asked where he came from, the little kid would identify himself as half English, half Bulgarian and half Chinese. "I think it has been the same ever since. I just got a very big connection to China," Burns highlights, even though he has left the country for years.

Burns appreciates the experiences of mixed heritages, which enable him to develop empathy for different cultures, teach the Western world about genuine Chinese cuisine and build a cross-cultural bridge, through food, between the East and the West.

"Food is probably the most accessible way for everyone to learn an alien culture," he says.

Looking ahead, Burns has some plans in mind. "I would love to do a travel food show throughout China on TV. Also, I would love to have my own restaurant in the future. That's definitely going to happen."

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