Bookshop Interview: A Simple Table’s Chi-San Wan
To mark the launch of our Acey Bookshop, we met with the authors behind our initial offering of titles to discuss their work and learn about the publishing process. Our third guest is Chi-San Wan, longtime friend and role model for us at The Acey.
Picture this: late Spring in London, a well-worn black leather jacket, vintage denim flares, long hair with an effortless wave. Chi’s outfit last time we encountered her embodies so much about what we love about her approach to making food and living more generally – fully considered, simple, and natural. We are so happy to celebrate the release of A Simple Table: Recipes and Rituals for a Life in Balance, co-authored with Natali Stajcic. An extra weekend day this May provided a vital moment to catch up with Chi and reflect on searching for equilibrium, her favourite East London greengrocers, and the future Olympic sport of baby-chasing.
The-Acey: You open A Simple Table by introducing yourselves and your “less is more” philosophy towards food. Tell us some more about this ethos.
Chi-San Wan: In this day and age of over-information, over-stimulation and over-load, more and more people have found the need to edit out the excess and stick with the essentials. This has been applied across all spectrums of life - at work, in our wardrobes, with our time and no less, on our plates. The ‘less is more’ philosophy encompasses this approach of really simplifying things, and appreciating the beauty in that. For example, in an overly dressed salad, you won’t be able to taste the flavours of nature’s bounty.
If you buy what is in season and local, all you need to do is cook simply and dress with the best sea salt and best olive oil you can afford, and nature will have done the rest for you. That means 'less is more' to me in terms of food.
TA: Have you brought any lessons from the fashion world into your work with food?
CW: The older I get (and since having a baby!), I have discovered how much I enjoy a uniformed wardrobe. I have now worked out what I feel most comfortable wearing, and have different variations of the same clothes that makes up a small, and what I hope to be sustainable, wardrobe. I don’t have ‘trend-led’ or ‘fast fashion’ items in my wardrobe because it never feels natural to me, and as much fun as it looks, I would feel uncomfortable trying to pull stuff off like that, therefore I tend to stick to the classics and the neutrals, and I’m OK with that. I guess you could say that I applied this approach with fashion into food and drink as well, as it’s all relative.
TA: Why did you and Natali decide to expand your collaboration and write a lifestyle guide together?
CW: When Natali and I started our company The Pressery, the main focus was raw, organic almond milk, but it was never meant to be just about the almond milk. I saw the company embodying the ‘less is more’ approach into various other lifestyle sectors such as print / fashion / food / beauty.
We had lots of ideas, and when Yellow Kite (our publishers) approached us about a recipe book based on nut milks, I knew it had to be more than just that. I wanted to show the passion and interests behind the product, how the product became and where it could go, so I pitched a different idea. This naturally included recipes we cooked day to day, staples we batch-make, rituals we tried to implement and natural beauty concoctions. It’s not so much a ‘guide’ but more of a gentle nudge for the reader to explore what makes them feel nourished, as everyone is unique and will feel differently at different times of the day / month / season!
TA: Where are your favourite places to shop for ingredients in London?
CW: I’m in East London so I am spoilt for choice with places to food shop. I collect the Growing Communities organic veg scheme every week, and then I will top it up with my everyday go-tos such as my local Turkish green grocers, mixed in with a bit of Whole Foods and local bakeries for sourdough such as Dusty Knuckle, Pavilion or E5. I love visiting the farmers markets too, local or outside of Hackney. Days out are generally food and drink orientated - that usually gets me places!
TA: Do you embody a slow lifestyle in other aspects of your life? How so?
CW: Ha. With a baby now, it’s harder but I do find that when I make the effort, it generally pays off. I have lemon and warm water every morning which is non-negotiable. Running around after Marloe all day is my daily exercise, but I do try and get to a kundalini class now and then. Meditation doesn’t happen every day now, but when required, I just close my eyes and concentrate on my breath.
When I feel like I need some fine tuning, I see my acupuncturist who helped me through-out my pregnancy. She helps to ground me again, she’s magic! I always manage to fit in batch-cooking once a week, which helps the rest of the days run a lot smoother. These rituals (or life hacks!) allows me some sort of equilibrium in amongst Marloe madness, daily struggles and freelance work.
I always make time to sit down and enjoy my food, it’s important for me to show Marloe we eat together and there are no other distractions (we don’t have a TV), and nothing warms my heart more than sitting down with a bunch of friends to some delicious food and drink when we can. We live close by to lots of greenery and nature (which is lucky considering we are in Hackney!), so going for long walks helps me reconnect and see things with a fresh perspective.
When Hackney won’t cut it, we escape to the coast so we can see the sea, or to the north so we can take a walk in the Peak District (where my parents live) or the west coast of Scotland (where my boyfriend’s parents live). It’s definitely a different pace of life now with a baby, but I am learning to embrace this new chapter in my life, and sometimes that requires slowing down.
More Bookshop interviews:
Part II – Picturing “These Islands” with Rosa Park