Aun Koh, founder and writer of the internationally successful food and travel blog Chubby Hubby, used to be chubby, but no more. An amazing feat considering his deep seeded love for gastronomical feasting and all things food and wine.
You see, he used to love the Chubby Hubby flavour of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and lots of it. To counteract his indulgence, his wife banned it from the house. Over time, Aun’s chubbiness was no longer a problem, although the name stuck and the Chubby Hubby blog was born.
Considered one of the world’s top food blogs by Time magazine, with over 40,000 unique visitors and 2 million hits per month. He has also written extensively for newspaper and magazines for over 10 years in Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. Aun is a well seasoned traveller and gourmand which shines through in his blog, and sparked the recent development of the Ate group and Miele guide, both prestigious corporations in the food and travel industry.
Wife Su – Lyn is no stranger to the food and travel industry either, a writer and editor for many of the world’s best publications including Town and Country magazine and the Wall Street Journal and the Lonely Planet Guide to Singapore and Malaysia. On top of this she has also written and edited numerous cookbooks. Su-Lyn is a regular contributor to the blog and plays a major role in keeping Aun’s wandering ice cream tendencies under control.
We sat down with Chubby Hubby and talked about his experience at last year’s Food and Wine Festival, food blogging, his favourite kitchen gadget and must have cookbooks.
The title of your blog ‘Chubby Hubby’ is intriguing. Could you tell us the story behind it?
When I started the blog and was searching for an appropriate name, it just came to me. Chubby Hubby is one of my favourite ice creams, made by Ben & Jerry’s. I liked it so much that it was becoming a rather prophetic name – I was literally turning into a Chubby Hubby. At some point, my wife banned the flavour from the house, but the name stuck. So I decided to use it.
What role do you feel food bloggers play within the restaurant and food industry both globally, and here in Australia.
I think bloggers provide restauranteurs and chefs with immediate feedback on how they are performing, from a very “real customer” perspective. In many countries, professional food journalists are pampered; they dine for free when they go out and are treated like royalty. In the early days of food blogging, these sites provided a more genuine perspective. The problem is that, as the influence of social media has grown, many food bloggers have become spoiled, expecting the same treatment as their professional peers – i.e. freebies and special treatment. The other problem is that a lot of bloggers have no real background that gives them to right to judge restaurateurs and chefs. This—and especially sites that crowd-source reviews anonymously—has created a huge problem of people who really shouldn’t be critiquing others thinking they’re experts. So, these days, you have to really sift out which bloggers to trust, which ones to read, and which ones to work with. The power that popular bloggers have is amazing and because of the medium, they can disseminate information immediately (unlike magazines, for example). To me, personally, and I would expect many of my peers to disagree with me, I think the role food bloggers should play is two-fold: One, to educate people on new foods and new culinary experiences – that could be through recipes or stories or reviews. Two, to promote and champion the food professionals that they truly admire, respect and think deserve a pat on the back for their hard work.
What do you feel is the key to creating engaging, on trend content that other bloggers may be able to draw wisdom from?
For the blog medium, you have to first of all be genuine. Your writing has to have personality. It needs to connect with audiences. And you can only do that by being real, by being yourself (or as much of yourself as you want to share with the world). You have to write about things that you know will also connect with audiences. When you think of a story idea, you have to always ask if you think someone reading your blog is going to give two cents about what you’re writing about. If not, kill the idea and move onto the next one. You need to pay attention to what’s happening in the food world and see if you have something you can contribute to the conversation through your stories. And lastly, you have to constantly be seeking out something new and exciting to share—something that no one else has discovered or written about yet. It’s being that gal or that guy who first discovered that awesome-est dish or restaurant, etc, that will make you a star in a very crowded universe of bloggers.
Recently restaurant owners and chefs have begun banning smartphones from restaurants as they feel photos taken by patrons may not truly reflect the quality of their work. What are your thoughts on this?
I have no problem with the idea behind that. The vast majority of smartphones take lousy pictures and the vast majority of diners probably couldn’t take a great food shot even if you handed them super-expensive DSLRs to play with. When I first started out, you could count on two hands the number of food blogs with great pictures. Today, though, that’s changed. There is so much amazing food photography on the web. You have professional photographers, food stylists and chefs running beautiful food blogs. But all of those guys know that whipping out a phone in a dimly lit restaurant isn’t going to capture an image worth drooling over.
You appear to have a fetish for snazzy kitchen gadgetry, what would be your gadget recommendation for the adventurous at-home cook?
I love, love, love using sous vide techniques at home, so to me, the two coolest gadgets are my Vacmaster chamber vacuum packer and my Addelice swid immersion circulator. The tool that I really, really want, though, is a Thermomix!
Top 3 cookbooks that belong on every bookshelf?
That’s an almost impossible question because depending on the kind of food a person loves or wants to cook, that answer will be different. For me, if I had to tell someone which 3 cookbooks to purchase in order to kickstart their collection, I would suggest Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food, The Cook’s Book published by DK and either The Complete Robuchon or Jane Lawson’s Yoshoku.
Here at NIFW headquarters, we love strange food combinations. Do you have a crazy food combo that raises people’s eyebrows?
I’m not sure it’s specifically odd, but I like surf and turf combinations. I once made an oxtail and shrimp lasagne for friends. It went down well, so I’m not sure you can classify it as crazy.
Last year was your first visit to Noosa and the food festival and we are honoured to have you returning for a second. What was it about the festival that lured you back for a second frolic in foodie heaven?
I’ve been to a lot of food festivals in my time. Noosa was quite simply, the most fun, most laid-back festival I’ve been to. Everyone, from the chefs to the participants, all seemed to be having a blast. And that made for an incredible atmosphere. It was also the festival with the most generous wine pours I have ever seen – which may have contributed to everyone’s great mood.
How would you explain Noosa to someone who has not travelled here before?
Noosa is a chic holiday beach town with amazing weather, a really great relaxed vibe, and a stunning beach. As for the festival, well, I think I said it on my site: it’s the most joyous food festival I’ve ever been to. It combines amazing chefs, great wine, great people, and the perfect holiday setting. Definitely a festival worth travelling to.
Do you have a particularly memorable meal you would like to describe from NIFW 2012?
I loved the Best Dinner in the World, of course, but my favourite was the meal cooked by Teague Ezard and Brendon Barker. Simply sensational fusion flavours handled by true superstars.
Which chefs from this year’s line-up are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
David Thompson and Andre Chiang are good friends, so of course I am looking forward to supporting them at the festival. I am also really excited that both Peter Gilmore and Greg Doyle are going to be there. I am a fan of Hadleigh Troy’s restaurant in Perth so I am very glad he’s attending the 2012 festival. And David Kinch is someone I have always wanted to meet.
Images courtesy of Chubby Hubb