A Conversation with Zoey Xinyi Gong

Hannah Teoh Outreach Manager

Food is medicine, food is memory, food is love. To nutritionist and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner Zoey Xinyi Gong, that is what food is. I had the lovely opportunity to speak to Zoey about wellness and health, and what that means from the perspective of Eastern medicine. 

Introduce yourself!

I’m Zoey Gong and I’m a Chinese medicine herbalist, chef, and nutritionist. I’m originally from Shanghai and now I’m living in New York.

What is TCM? 

TCM stands for Traditional Chinese Medicine; it is the healing and medical system that started in Ancient China but is still being practiced nowadays in China, along with Western medicine. The practice has since been modernized, and there’s been studies behind it. Under the big umbrella of Chinese medicine, you have acupuncture, guasha, cupping, herbal decoctions, and food therapy. 

How did you start practicing TCM?

I grew up with these ingredients and food. But when I first came to the U.S. for high school, I had a lot of health issues. It was mainly caused by the food; it was such a big diet change for me. I’ve never had cream cheese before! I was really stressed because of my health problems.

I tried to heal myself with food and that helped me tremendously. I went to college for Nutrition and Food Studies to study Western clinical nutrition, and I was working in the culinary industry as well. I found that the more that I studied, the more questions I had. It was very restrictive in the sense that it was numbers-based;

Numbers were used to define food and people.

I also continued to have menstruation issues and my mother brought me along for acupuncture therapy and food therapy, and my menstruation issues were cleared after that. At the same time, I was looking into ancient Chinese recipes and herbs and I was fascinated by them! A lot of the trendy superfoods used Chinese ingredients such as kombucha, matcha, and goji berries. That’s how I began starting my of practice combining Western nutrition and Chinese medicine. 

Is TCM gaining traction in the West? What are some misconceptions people have about TCM?

Instead of misconceptions, I think people just don’t know much about the practice at all. Some people think that since it’s Asian-focused, it’s only good for Asians, or that TCM uses unusual animal parts and superstition is involved. I think people attach TCM with superstition because they don’t understand the language that TCM uses; it’s a whole different set of scientific language that someone who’s not from that culture might be confused by. For example, in the West, bacteria is called pathogens, but in Chinese the word for pathogen is “evil”. It’s the same concept but because of the translation, people have different ideas about it. 

What is Five Seasons TCM? What do you hope to do with this brand that you started?

I launched Five Seasons TCM in January 2020 with the goal of educating people about Chinese medicine through food therapy. I wanted to explain food therapy and present it in a more modern way. So you’ll see a lot of fusion dishes from us. We offer free recipes and classes and we also have a tonic line where you can use them for tea, herbal broths, or porridges. It’s very much an educational brand. 

How do you usually come up with recipes? What is the process like?

Firstly, all the recipes I make are seasonal. I’ll think about the season we’re in right now and what seasonal ingredients are best for the season.

In Chinese medicine, each season also corresponds with a different health system and a different principle.

So for example, in autumn, it is the season of the metal elements, so the lung and large intestine meridians should be taken care of to prevent something called “dryness”. For me to design a recipe, I’ll think about the herbs that I can add to help with that and what produce are in season right now. I’ll also think about what cuisine I’ll go with for that dish and then whip something up!

What are some of your favorite recipes?

For the autumn season, one of my favorites is sticky rice stuffed pear. It’s a pear that’s stuffed with sticky rice and sticky millets, along with goji berries and jujube dates. It’s a very light dessert, it looks beautiful, and I love the taste of it. 

You’re also an artist; how do you combine food and art?

For me, it’s about the presentation. I try to present it in an organic and minimalist way; there’s a lot of focus on the actual look of the dish, highlighting the ingredients that I use and it’s textures.

The art is in the nature of the ingredients themselves.

I think our society nowadays have overlooked that part, when you buy supplements it’s often just extracts and powders. You don’t see the raw form of the ingredients anymore. That’s what I try to capture with the ingredients. 

What does wellness and health mean to you?

Wellness needs to be a lifestyle, and it need to be personalized. I don’t recommend anyone to follow a health trend or a trendy diet. The first step is to be aware of the body—what do we actually need and what works for us. And that really take the effort to make it a lifestyle. Don’t see it as a one-week detox.

It needs to be from the mind, too. Once you have a good mindset, feeling content and motivated to stay healthy, then you can take wellness to the next step. There’s a syndrome of people that are too into wellness and it becomes limiting in their lifestyle and diet. Wellness is a mind-body connection. And that’s what Chinese medicine is all about. 

Rapid Fire Questions!

Favorite place to visit

Places in China where I can explore what they have. I really want to go to Yunan, I’m really into mushrooms and they have around 200 kinds of edible mushrooms. 

Favorite season

I love summer. The sunshine, the warmth, and the abundance of crops!

Best way to unwind and relax

I lie down and read a book, or listen to music, and do nothing. If I have time, I paint. 

Zoey Gong is a Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) chef and nutritionist. Born in Shanghai, China, she grew up with the wisdom of medicinal cooking. She came to the U.S. at 16 years old and now holds a B.S. in nutrition as well as global public health. She now resides in New York City, where she hosts pop-up medicinal dinners and educates the public on TCM food therapy. With a background in both western and eastern clinical nutrition, she founded Five Seasons TCM in 2021, a boutique wellness brand that shares and modernizes the knowledge of TCM food therapy.

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