HE'S written 38 books in two decades, yet it's only now at the age of 81 that Ken Lo considers himself an author. It's a change of heart that follows the recent publication of his autobiography, The Feast Of My Life, which says as much about Chinese culture, history and heritage as it does about Lo's lifelong passion: food. The Chinese restaurateur, gourmet, cookery teacher and columnist admitted he had long had the inclination to write his autobiography. There was plenty of food for thought: anecdotes about his years in the kitchen, as the genial host of London's most chic Oriental restaurant, of being considered more au fait with Chinese cooking than any of his compatriots. The Feast Of My Life, published by Doubleday, has received favourable reviews in the British press as well as in publications in India, Singapore and even Oman. Lo's life makes for interesting reading; the book, he said, was spurred on by 'the many odd events in my life', from working as a bomb warden to inadvertently qualifying for the Davis Cup. Lo's family arrived in England in 1919 from their native Fukien province. He was six years old. As a teenager he returned to Beijing University, graduated with a degree in physics and then returned to England to get his degree in English literature at Cambridge. During World War II, Lo took on the duty of university bomb warden, whose job it was to alert the colleges in the event of a German attack. He then moved to a short stint as a radio presenter for the BBC overseas service, after which he became a labour relations officer for Chinese seamen based in Liverpool. While there he wrote a book called the Forgotten Wave, now an Imperial War Museum exhibit. Although Lo was invited by the Chinese Foreign Ministry to return to his homeland, he declined, opting instead to play for the Chinese team in the Davis Cup at Wimbledon, to coach tennis, and begin publishing Chinese art prints. He fell into writing cookbooks almost by accident. 'Chinese food was just getting popular. It was right after the war and the number of Chinese restaurants had begun to grow.' And as well as literature, Lo certainly knew his food. So in the late 1950s he approached the publishing house of Penguin and suggested a book, simply titled Chinese Food, which he said would explain this most complex of gastronomic subjects to the Western world. The publisher bought the idea and, over the past 21 years, Lo has written close to 40 cookbooks, many of which are regularly reprinted. 'I had access to cookbooks printed in China and that was all I needed. I had travelled extensively all over China, visiting Kunming, Guangzhou and Hangzhou. All I had to do was interpret traditional books so the English could understand them. They've sold very well - some reprints have sold up to half a million copies,' Lo said. Before long, his name had become synonymous with the best of Chinese cooking, and the veteran gourmet realised he could cash in on the recognition. In 1980, he opened his first Memories Of China restaurant in plush Belgravia. He eventually sold it, keeping the name as part of the agreement, and five years ago opened the new Memories of China in a corner of Chelsea Harbour. Today, his establishment is a firm favourite with celebrities and royalty - Fergie loves it, as do King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan. There are self-congratulatory pictures on the walls of Lo with Paul McCartney, Dame Edna Everage and Shirley MacLaine. Tina Turner and Elton John are regulars - John recently organised a dinner party with Lo's help at which starters were served on a boat cruising up the marina to the restaurant and the main course was eaten indoors. 'It was a bit like Aberdeen,' Lo said. Yet, despite all his expertise, the author admits he no longer spends much time in the kitchen. 'I cook experimentally, not professionally. I like to try new dishes to add to the menu but the real cooking I leave to my staff,' he said. At the Ken Lo Kitchen Cookery School, the first Chinese cookery school to be opened in England, Lo and a team of chefs teach students how to prepare Yangtze cuisine, Peking duck, basics such as deep-fried spare ribs with spicy salt and pepper, and the Cantonese staple, stir-fried mixed vegetables. Dishes in the kitchen school that often show up on his restaurant menu include radish and spinach salad, two colour Shanghai salad, and ginger and onion seabass. In recent years, Lo has worked as consultant to the king of food critics, Egon Ronay, and Heinz also asked him to help compile their good food guide. 'All I want to do is produce authentic Chinese food from different regions like Yangzhou, Shanghai, Sichuan and Fujian. There is now an amalgamation of different types of Chinese cuisines and because the British have become much more adventurous and sophisticated in their tastes, you can't just dish out anything and hope they will find it authentic and original,' Lo said. 'Like everything else, Chinese food is subject to a process of evolution.' Such has it evolved, Lo says, that smart restaurants keep the monosodium glutamate in the back of the storage cupboard and the amount of oil used for frying is reduced by using high heat temperatures and fast cooking. 'Freshness of vegetables counts for a fair bit in Chinese cuisine which is why we use asparagus tips and pea pods in our repertoire. Dim sum appeals to many Europeans because of its small portions. They are so tiny, yet people don't realise how expensive they are to make because of the skill needed to produce them.' Lo loves comparing cuisines - prices, flavours, cost-effectiveness. 'People think French food is the most expensive in the world. I think Chinese is. They talk about the cost of a truffle, but look at the cost of one ounce [25 grams] of the best bird's nest money can buy - US$650. That's slightly higher than the price of gold, isn't it?' At the same time, Chinese food can also be 'cheap chow'. Lo said he once helped organise a party for 100 and promised he would 'cook for the whole lot for under ?15' (HK$175). 'I did it graciously. I used lots of minced meat, soya sauce and shrimp sauce, stock cubes, some vegetables and transparent noodles and served it with rice. Everyone loved it. It was simple but it required a bit of thought. That's one thing about Chinese food - it's not exactly like throwing a roast beef in the oven, is it?'