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What's cooking, Heidi?
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Though most expats come and go, some stay on, watching the city develop over the years and growing along with it.

Australian expat Heidi Dugan is one of them, considering Shanghai her true home.

"The people who came here around a decade ago were explorers and entrepreneurs, and those who have stayed seem to have done really well," says Dugan who has lived here for almost 12 years.

As a TV host with the Shanghai Media Group, she is best known for "You Are the Chef," a daily cooking show filmed in five-star restaurants with professional chefs.

She will host two new shows starting in January for the new Shanghai International Channel, "Culture Matters" and a business program.

The Brisbane native is married to a Shanghainese kung fu teacher, Zhang Yi, and has one daughter, Syana.

She splits her time between hosting shows, looking after her daughter and promoting her online "Wearable Energy" crystal jewelry business.

"The last six weeks have been crazy busy with promotional videos and filming episodes," she says. But she's accustomed to the demands of TV.

Explaining how an Australian ends up on Chinese TV, Dugan says, "I started out as an actress. But my father was from the business side and said it was good to have other skills." She took a course in computing at Melbourne University.

For her academic excellence, she was soon offered a three-month scholarship in Japan, representing her university. This turned into a stint at Wuhan University studying international trade.

"Although my dream was originally to go to the UK and act, when I was offered this chance in China I remember what my acting teacher always told me: to be a good actress you need a lot of life experience. And I thought, 'what better experience than China'?"

After nine months in Wuhan, she moved to Shanghai. During her Wuhan mid-year break, she had visited Shanghai and attended Australian mixers - "that's where I was offered my first job."

It was in real estate and Dugan was able to finish her studies and get to know her new environment. Then she followed her passion and worked in TV.

She started out reading the English-language news and editing on satellite Shanghai Broadcast Network (SBN). Then she helped out on "City Beat."

"I was very lucky since I knew the right person at the right time, and so I was soon offered a chance to host my own show."

Dugan started with the cooking show "You Are the Chef" on SBN (which later became Dragon TV), it soon got picked up by CCTV-9 (renamed "Chop Sticks") and it has been a success for the past five years. It moves to the Shanghai International Channel next month.

"I'm not a chef by trade - my style of cooking is very 'home style.' What I have in my home I can make something from," Dugan says. But she learns fast.

The show is filmed one day a week - five daily shows at a time. Each week has a theme, so each day is a demonstration of a different take.

Dugan cooks with one of the chefs in five-star restaurants. "I used to represent the audience while I was learning to cook, but now it is more of an exchange of information," she says.

Despite her busy TV schedule, the Aussie is setting up a Website for her crystal jewelry business (, operated with her mother and a friend back in Australia.

"Crystals have different energies and protection; they can give protection, confidence, love, wealth, health, empowerment, etc," Dugan says.

The crystal is sold with a scroll describing its qualities and an affirmation card. Carrying the card is supposed to remind people to focus on what they want.

"It is all about the laws of attraction, what you focus on is what you will receive. Most people focus on negative things that are very destructive," she observes.

The jewelry is also sold at View on Taikang Road, where the initial stock quickly sold out.

As for the future, Dugan says simply: "You never know what will happen, but there certainly still looks like a lot to do here."

(Shanghai Daily December 18, 2007)

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