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ESF The First 50 Years - People stories

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The sky is the limit

ESF alumnus: Jamie Bilbow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 11:20am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 11:20am

[Sponsored article] Life often works in mysterious ways. Jamie Bilbow was born and raised in Hong Kong, but didn’t learn any Chinese for the first 18 years of his life. Little did he know that he would go on to earn a BA in Chinese Studies at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London.

The Sha Tin College alumnus understood it was a risky decision, but, fortunately, the activities he chose became very useful in shaping his future career.

“The Chinese was optional, and I took theatre, arts, food science and Spanish instead,” explains Jamie.

He tried to think of a career which combined his love of western food with the Chinese language, which also made use of his acting experience. Few could have discerned a career in promoting western cooking on Chinese television whilst travelling across faraway places, such as Yunnan  and Xinjiang. But this is exactly what he ended up doing.

Four days after graduation, he was already off to China, where his first act was to try and sell hummus on a tricycle. He ended up discussing western food with old men who would enquire about the product, giving him his first taste of promoting western food and culture in the mainland.  

Jamie’s next step involved setting up a small western restaurant, but he received a surprisingly strong interest from local residents who wished to learn more about western cooking. This led to him offering cooking classes which were aimed not just focused on food, but on reaching a deep cultural understanding with students.

The classes eventually led to Jamie publishing a cookbook with over 50 recipes of western dishes explained in Chinese, which piqued the interest of CCTV. The station ended up offering him a contract for a travelling and cooking show in Yunnan province, followed by a second show which took place on the Silk Road from Urumqi to Xi’an.

Jamie is currently writing his second cookbook and has no plans on slowing down.

Language has been one of the key ingredients of his success, while being in the right place at the right time is another.

“Work out where your value is,” says Jamie about his recipe for success.  “For me, the right place was in China. I asked myself where I wanted to be and assessed the opportunities as they arose.”

“I say yes to any opportunities that present new challenges, even if they aren’t related to the ‘final goal’. I say yes more often than no and put myself into as many new situations as possible.”