Nancy Lam

Nancy Lam has become the darling of Asian cooking in England. In her most candid interview yet, Nancy reveals her thoughts on life in the spotlight to Fiona Shield

When you first came to London you went into nursing, what made you decide to become a chef?
I always loved cooking, I used to cook with my grandma when I was younger, so to be a chef and to have achieved so much is a big bonus. I’m 60 now, and still dreaming to be more, I want to show people that there are more things I can give.
I came to live in London when I was just 22, I was born in Singapore on a very interesting little island, so it’s amazing to have been able to see how the world is. I love England, if not I would have gone home. I know the world has changed but beauty is still here. When I was nursing I learnt a lot about life, particularly self-discipline more than anything else. And then when I had children, and couldn’t afford to look after them I had to go to work – I used to have three jobs. My husband and I wanted to open a greengrocer, we wanted to do sweet shops, we wanted to sell so many things, but nothing was happening, so I prayed. And then when I was working with someone he asked me to open a restaurant with him. Even though I knew it was a risk, especially with young children, I took the risk. It’s not impossible to have a dream and make the dream come true, even with very little money. Then I got famous and being on television has been wonderful.

You’re one of ten children, what did your meal times used to be at home?
Oh my god, everybody would be at the door fighting! Eating is a gathering and eating is everything. You live, you eat; on your birthday, you eat; at a gathering, you eat. You feel like everything you have in life is sharing and eating. We always had lots of bowls of vegetables with peanut sauce, sweet potatoes, papaya leaves, yam leaves, kasava leaves and there was always a bowl of noodles, an enormous bowl. 

You’re known for your quirky persona on screen…
I love television because I enjoy giving, I suppose sometimes people think that I’m weird, they think that I’m over the top and they don’t take me seriously, but I’m actually very, very serious about cooking. I love cooking and I love sharing. Going on television helped the restaurant while the children are growing older and it was just great. Because I’m the only chef in the restaurant we can’t do television all the time, but it’s not a regret, because when I do I give them a treat – I give them a party, party, party! I do get sad sometimes and it does show. It’s just nature isn’t it? If every day I’m happy, I’m being two-faced. Life is a very strange thing, when you’re at the right time, the right place, the bowl of rice tastes better.

How do you find being a celebrity?
I’m a very, very simple celebrity. I have a lot of friends and I don’t have any show-offs in my life. I’m very proud of my status and I’m very proud that I’m living in the Queen’s country and I’m still doing well. Without my family I wouldn’t be able to do it, I don’t have relatives in England, I only have my three kids, my husband and me. I find that some people are envious of you, some people love you. But I always say if I can share my bowl of rice, I will. I want to leave the world to say that I do not regret not giving anything.

You’re obviously well known for being very outgoing – do you enjoy that?
Sometimes it’s fun to be eccentric in a good way but sometimes it’s not a good thing because people don’t take you seriously and won’t take a chance on you. Sometimes the serious people are the biggest crooks. You can see all the fish in the sea but you don’t know if one is a puff fish and that you’ll be poisoned by it if you eat it. I’m honest, I’m eccentric and I’m one of the most famous women from overseas in this country. Sometimes people are negative about that. 

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