5. Februar 2020

Maggie Zhu: “You have to let go to enjoy life”

Food and fashion – two things that make life more joyful, and for both of them Maggzie Zhu is an expert.

As a blogger and cook behind “The Omnivore´s Coobook“ she creates recipes inspired by her Chinese homeland, works dumpling dough or mixes the best barbecue sauce; as fashion influencer she designs outfits and elegant fashion photography for her Instagram account @maggzhu.
Her love of food and the idea to dream herself back home through the scents and flavors of the Chinese cuisine encouraged Maggie to pursue a career in the digital world.

Having grown up in Beijing, the 35-year old first moved to Japan and discovered cooking for herself. She founded her blog in 2013, moved to the USA in 2015 (her husband is American), and today her “Omnivore’s Cookbook” is celebrated as well-informed platform for Chinese recipes, which are easy to implement, Zhu promises.

Living in New York with a hectic daily routine, she always finds the time to cook for herself and her husband. This is even more admirable, as meanwhile she is not only behind the camera, taking pictures of delicious Bao Buns, but also in front of the camera as fashion influencer, presenting international designer looks.

She admits life and work between these two worlds brings its challenges, and reveals more in our interview on Times Square.

How did you feel, standing alone in the White Cube?

I could feel the pulse of the city. New York is always on the move and this creates a sound, which is always there, like a beating heart.

Did you recognize that immediately when you came to New York? That it is so intense and loud?

Yes definitely, it is super busy. But I think that this is one reason why I love it so much.

How does New York taste?

Like pizza. It tastes so great here, and you can eat it everywhere.

As a food blogger you started out behind the camera, you cooked and styled the dishes. Was it easy for you to pose in front of the camera as fashion influencer?

Not at all. You will not believe it, but I really struggled with standing in front of the camera. Even as a child I hated it when someone wanted to take a picture if me. Starting from the fifth grade, I simply refused to pose, which is why there are very little pictures from back then. I prefer to take pictures myself, with other people in it. However, it became easier when I moved to the US and founded my own business. At first, I had my food blog and then on one of my trips, I met a couple of fashion influencers and I had the idea to become one myself. That was when I realized that I did not have to smile in pictures.

Really, that made it easier?

Yes, you look much cooler (she laughs). Whenever someone says „Cheese!“ I am very stiff, like a mummy. A friend who works in fashion advised me „You have to look irritated, and then it is cool.“ It is funny, but I liked it. I find I look a lot better in pictures when I do not smile.

How did you discover your love for food? Did you help in the kitchen as a kid?

I was more of a spectator. In Asia, people think you should not interfere. Especially in the kitchen, as a kid you would be told not to make a mess. Plus, Asian parents are usually very strict. Mine always told me that my dumplings were crooked, that I had not folded them the right way, and that I was too slow anyway. My mum still thinks that I cannot cook (she laughs). However, they are also proud of what I have accomplished. My mum and I speak over video chat every week. She reads my blog, and then we speak about the dishes that I cook.

What does home smell like to you?

Like deep-fried dough. In China, we have the so-called Chinese Donut. It is very fluffy and light, and at the same time cross and it is not sweet but salty. When I smell that, I feel like home.

How and when did you realize you wanted to make a profession out of your hobby?

When I moved to the US. In China, I had a fulltime job and my blog was just a hobby I pursued in my free time. I did not earn much money with it, but I loved it. Then I came to the States and it took some time until I had a work visa. Therefore, I decided to give it a year time to see how far I can get with it. Of course, my mum´s advice after only six months was to take on a „real job“. However, my husband really gave me confidence, and then slowly the project gathered way. Living in the US really helped me to understand my readers. My recipes are addressed to non-Chinese readers, so I first had to understand their habits, how they cook and shop groceries. Learning this really gave my career a huge push forward.

What exactly do you want to teach your readers about the Chinese cuisine?

I want to teach them that Chinese cooking can be very simple and pure. It does not have to be about meat and sweet and sour sauces. Vegetables play an extremely important role, there is often much more of it on the menu, and most people are not aware of that. I want my readers to learn about new spices, because they can give a special taste to simple ingredients.

Is simplicity important to your cooking and to your life in general?

Definitly, I am pro minimalism. Thinking about styling, I do not want to overdo my look with too many pieces. If you asked me to describe myself with a dish, I would say fried rice reflects me best. Just rice and a bit of egg: That is my comfort food, when I get spontaneously hungry in the middle of the night.

Your husband has his own blog about vegan food called “Gastroplant”. You are dedicated to different kinds of food. How do you bring that together?

Obviously, I cook a lot for my business, so I have to meet my reader’s interests. I spend the day preparing food with my team and photographing it, and at the end of the day, I usually eat it or give it to my assistant or to friends. My husband mostly cooks vegan, but he is not strict, so he also tastes my dishes and gives me feedback. At home, we eat very healthy and plant-based and we both love that. However, it is all about balance in life. So I eat cookies, burger and pizza often, too.

Fashion and food are two very contrary worlds. The fashion industry is criticized for putting pressure on women to be slim. Speaking about food, it is all about pleasure. How did you find the balance between both fields and bring them together for yourself?

To be honest, that was hard for me. For a long time I thought I needed to be skinny if I wanted to be a fashion influencer, and so I changed my nutrition. I have tried so many diets. One month I ate vegan, and the next month I tried out the Paleo trend. Nothing really helps in the end; you have to find your individual way to eat right. I definitely felt the pressure and it was a process to deal with it, but now I am very relaxed about it. You cannot always be tense and controlled in life. You have to let go, in order to enjoy it.