All you need to know about TV chef Suzie Lee

GRAEME COUSINS talks to Suzie Lee about how her Chinese origins and upbringing in NI have shaped her culinary style

By Graeme Cousins
Monday, 5th April 2021, 8:30 am
Updated Monday, 5th April 2021, 2:17 pm
Home cooking star Suzie Lee
Home cooking star Suzie Lee

Suzie Lee is proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, especially if it’s an audiobook.

The 36-year-old home cooking hero describes herself as “fully Chinese” though her thick Northern Ireland accent often throws people.

Suzie, who hails from Lisburn, explained: “I would always say that I was Northern Irish, I’m born and bred here. I’ve a very broad Northern Ireland accent.

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Suzie with Zander and Odelia

“It’s funny because if I’m on a phonecall and arrange to meet someone somewhere, when they come to meet me they always look past me. They’re always a bit surprised when I introduce myself.

“I don’t see that as anything, I know I’m fully Chinese, both my parents are from Hong Kong, but I feel completely Northern Irish.

“I embrace my Northern Irish heritage and I also embrace my Chinese heritage. I find it really hard to split sometimes.”

Another incorrect assumption to make about Suzie is that having grown up in a Chinese takeaway – the Man Lee in Lisburn – that her expertise is in Chinese cooking.

Cantonese salmon

The winner of BBC national cookery competition Best Home Cook said: “Northern Irish home cooking is my thing. I’ve always been a bit nervous with Chinese cooking because there are so many great cooks in the family. Chinese cooking takes me out of my comfort zone.”

Having watched her cook and tasted some of her dishes I think there’s a touch of modesty in Suzie’s comments.

In the new series of Suzie Lee Home Cook Hero she tries to marry her dual heritages: “I really wanted to mix it up, there’s two or three in each episode where I go for more Chinese Cantonese dishes and then my Northern Irish home cooking, stodge some of it, that’s who I am, really mixed.”

Suzie was taught to cook by her mum Celia, who sadly passed away when she was just 16. She earned pocket money by doing jobs such as chopping onions and de-boning chicken in the family takeaway.

The takeaway is still going strong, having been set up in 1980.

The former Wallace High School student said: “Dad said it’s been mental to the point where some nights it’s sold out at eight o’clock.

“They’re doing just as well opening to 10 o’clock at night. Back before lockdown they had been opening to 12 and one o’clock at the weekend.

“I suppose it’s all circumstantial. Weekends and weekdays feel the same. It’s getting to the point where we’re ordering a pizza midweek, we never would have done that.”

Suzie went to Queen’s University which led her to a career in chartered accountancy. She now runs her own firm from home.

Suzie and her husband Steven both play hockey with Lisnagarvey and during lockdown Suzie organised a cook-along with the Irish Ladies hockey team.

She said: “When I do the cook-alongs people see the chaos I bring to the kitchen with my kids. They thought, ‘wow, you’re brave enough to do this live, you’re not stressed, you’re not shouting’.

“You just have to roll with it. We’re all stuck, the kids just love mucking in, it’s a sensory thing.”

She continued: “I do Insta-reality, people will say, ‘wow, you showed that’. I’ll be like, ‘yeah, that’s my kitchen table, we do everything there’. My house is messy, I’m not going to hide that. It’s a lived-in house, I’ve two young children.

“I have got lovely messages from people saying, ‘I’m so glad you shared that because my house is exactly the same’.

“I’m just a normal person. If you can keep on top of housework with two young children, and work, and homeschooling – you’re magnificent. I’m not that person.”

Suzie and Steven’s son Zander goes to Riverdale Primary School: “He’s in P2 and loving life. He loves being back at school. He really missed it, I’m just so glad he’s back with his friends.”

Their daughter Odelia isn’t old enough for school just yet.

Offering tips on how to get children interested in cooking she said: “As much as Play-Doh is horrific to get out of carpet, it’s a great thing for learning knife skills.

“They they can progress to mushrooms, carrots.

“I let them use a butter knife to cut with, that’s what I learned with. It’s hard to do damage with a butter knife.”

Of the dishes in her new series, Suzie said: “I’m trying to break these recipes right down to store cupboard ingredients.

“You don’t want 20 ingredients for one dish.

“People look at Chinese cooking and think it’s complicated, it’s not. As long as the prep is there it only takes minutes.

“That’s life, if you’re prepared at the start, it can throw anything at you, but you should be able to swim in some shape or form.”

The Man Lee aside Suzie was asked for some lockdown takeaway recommendations: “As much as I can cook I do like food being made for me.

“We love Sakura for sushi, I’ve also found Sumo Cat and Kamakura recently. I love a good burger, Tribal Burger is our go-to.

“Local butcher Ian Mullholland has the Pig Out every Saturday at the rugby club in Lisburn. I can also recommended 101 Origin in Moira.

“Those are our favourite places. We’re really spoilt in Northern Ireland places to eat.”

In terms of home cooking Suzie said people should consider getting their food items from butchers and greengrocers or direct from producers rather than supermarkets: “People think they’re getting really good value for money in the big supermarkets, maybe for things like toilet roll, but the meat and fish and vegetables you get from the butchers, the greengrocers – it’s so much bigger, and fresher, they keep a lot longer.

“You shouldn’t have to queue for a supermarket, there’s so much you can get from local suppliers who will deliver to your door.

“A lot of farm shops have popped during lockdown. I think it’s a great thing. The more people that know about them the better.”

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