Her romance with fellow TVB star Kevin Cheng may have fizzled a few years ago (and Kevin has since gotten together with former Miss Hong Kong Grace Chan, 22 years his junior). But Charmaine is not jaded about love. Nope, far from it.
When we ask her if she was seeing someone new, Charmaine giggles like a schoolgirl and her expressive doe eyes turn wistful. “I think romance offers that little bit of sweetness in life,” she muses in Cantonese-accented Mandarin, though she neither admits nor deny that there is a Special Someone in her life. “But a relationship requires time and effort to nurture,” she adds.
And Charmaine Sheh is a busy, busy woman. On top of projects in China and movie filming in Malaysia, she recently dropped by Marina Bay Sands to film reality cooking competition Star Chef China 4, for which she is a judge. Last season, she had unexpectedly slayed the show as a contestant, whipping up a fancy Eight Treasures Duck dish that impressed the judges. Who knew this glam queen could cook? But she’s quick to prove naysayers wrong, okay.
8 DAYS: You ended your relationship with TVB actor Kevin Cheng in 2013. Are you currently seeing anyone now?
CHARMAINE SHEH: Hur hur! I think romance offers that little bit of sweetness in life (giggles nervously). It is nourishing for the soul. Am I seeing anyone? Well, a relationship requires effort and time to nurture. If I don’t have time for a relationship, I might as well focus on my career and let things happen naturally.
But I don’t think I will be the type of stay-at-home wife who would cook for her husband every day… Okay, maybe I’d cook once in a while! I think most men like to go home to a virtuous wife who can cook a good meal for them (laughs).
Speaking of cooking, you’re a judge on this season's Star Chef China, which you competed on and won last year. What is it like to be a judge this time round?
I was so nervous as a contestant. I feel much more relaxed being a judge! When I look at the contestants, I understand what they are going through and how they feel. So I won’t be too strict. But I have my criteria too. It is important that the contestants are creative in their plating, and the food must, of course, taste good.
Why join a cooking competition?
I joined ‘cos I’ve never done [a cooking reality show] before. I wouldn’t join a competition for something that I’m already very good at doing. I want to go out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.
What was your reaction to sceptics who assume you can't cook?
(Giggles) My friends were really surprised when I joined [Star Chef China] and came in first. They asked me, “Was the competition rigged? Did you really know how to cook, or were you just acting?” I said, “Come over to my house and try my food.” So I prepared a whole table of dishes for them, and they all ate and shut up (laughs).
Honestly, I didn’t even know I could cook! But I grew up in a household where my mum and grandmother are very good cooks. They could whip up a whole feast, but they were very territorial. [The kitchen was their domain] and they would never let me in there. Each time I tried to sneak a peek, they’d say, “Get out! Go out and play!” So growing up I did not learn any cooking skills, although cooking comes naturally to me ’cos I tend to remember flavours and their right combinations very well. After the competition, I cook more at home now.
Ever fancied yourself as a restaurant boss like your fellow actors Louis Koo, Daniel Wu and Carina Lau?
(Thoughtfully) I don’t think I’m cut out to be a restaurant owner… I’m too hospitable! If my friends come to my restaurant, I’d insist on giving them a treat. I’d be making huge losses (laughs). And I like to personally oversee a business — I’d be like, why is this not good? Why is that dish so salty today?
I can be very bossy, ’cos if the customer pays to dine at my restaurant, he deserves the best. But I just don’t have time to run a restaurant. And I don’t think I can deal with my business failing. If my restaurant closes down, I’d definitely cry!
What other secret talents do you have?
I love drawing. I'd like to publish a book of my drawings someday. Maybe when I'm not working anymore and have time [for such projects].
Would you join another reality competition?
Of course. I got an offer sometime back to join a [Fear Factor] sort of show where they make you do scary things like bungee jumping and skydiving. I had to decline the job ’cos I had suffered from neck and spinal injuries before, and I was worried that the impact of the activities would worsen my condition.
When I was filming [the 2015 romance flick] Return of the Cuckoo, I had a bungee jumping scene too. It was raining on the day we filmed that scene, and I spent a whole afternoon just waiting for the moment to jump. And my heart was going, “Thump, thump, thump” ’cos I was so scared!
I was supposed to do the jump about a dozen times [for different takes]. I don’t really have a fear of heights, but I think by the fifth jump I would be bawling my eyes out (laughs). It doesn’t get easier, no matter how many times you do it. My family didn’t want me to go through with the bungee jump either. In the end, we called off the jump [and got a stuntman to do it instead].
After your TVB contract ended last year, you set up your own studio agency. How has that changed your career?
I have more control over my schedule now, and I can pick projects that I’d like to try. I just finished filming [the spy comedy movie, Agent Mr Chan, with Hongkong comedian] Dayo Wong. It is our first time working together again after seven years, and I’m also filming a period drama in China. I haven’t done a period piece in a long time, so that was something I wanted to pick up again.
I feel so refreshed now. In the past, my schedule was packed so tightly. I felt that all I did was work, work and work. Now I’m spending more time with my family and friends, especially since my mother is getting on in her years.
Do you ever get bored after almost two decades in showbiz?
There are high and low points, definitely. When I first started out, I kept pushing myself to go, go, go. But whenever I receive a major award, I would suddenly feel very empty. Where do I go from here? Do I aim for another award? So I asked the veterans for advice. They said, “Why don’t you go try something else?”
So I left TVB for two years [in 2011] and ventured into China on my own. It allowed me to experience different things and work with different people. Sometimes you just need to break away to see what you can really do.
MAIN PHOTO: CHEE YAN