The Coolest Chinese Cooking Courses, Here and Abroad

Asia, China, Extras, Food & Wine — By on September 13, 2010 at 6:00 am

“In all honesty I was there for the food,” writes Lost Girl Meghann Foye of her time spent traveling in Beijing. “Looking for some kind of generalization about Chinese cuisine proved difficult. The diversity of flavors, textures and tastes is astonishing.”

From the season finale of Top Chef in Singapore to Anthony Bourdain’s recent jaunt to the late-night food markets of Shanghai, Asian street food is hotter than ever, and now, many new cooking classes are opening up in China to cater to the growing interest. Intrigued yet? If so, maybe it’s time to graduate from Americanized takeout to learning to cook your own authentic Chinese dishes. Here are a few different cooking school options at home and abroad.

Black Sesame Kitchen

Thanks to a tip-off from Hip Travel Mama, I looked into Black Sesame Kitchen. Based in central Beijing, (which Meghann says could be the next great expat city) the Sichuan cooking program emphasizes hands-on experience in small classes taught by native Chinese chefs. Black Sesame Kitchen is led by Jen Lin-Liu, a journalist who started out by giving cooking lessons in her friends’ homes before opening her own school and open dining room. Lin-Liu is also the author of “Serve the People,” detailing life and cooking in China, which brought her closer to many experienced Chinese chefs.

Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine

China’s highest-level chefs attend this school, which now hosts weeklong Sichuan cooking programs for the rest of us. Just how serious is this place? Cooking lessons are conducted in Mandarin by experienced Sichuan chefs—but are also translated into English by on-site translators. Morning demos are followed by hands-on experience in the afternoons.

Lending clout is Fuchsia Dunlop, a British journalist, cookbook author and well-respected Sichuan food expert who was the first Westerner to attend the Institute. Dunlop helped design the weeklong program, which kicks off with a Chengdu Hot Pot Dinner, includes a visit to a local market, and concludes with a multi-course celebratory banquet at a Sichuan restaurant. An interview with Dunlop on NPR’s All Things Considered in 2008 offers insight into her adoration of Chinese dishes.

Private Chinese Cooking Classes and Food Tours of China

In Shanhai and Beijing, there are several companies that offer private cooking lessons, according to Taylor Holliday, who wrote about cooking vacations for The New York Times in 2007. One such company is Hias Gourmet, which runs Chinese cooking classes and “Walking Food Tours” for small groups—these are “two to three hour food hunts through the heart of a city,” according to their website. Read Holliday’s other suggestions for exploring Chinese dishes in Hong Kong and Shanghai in The New York Times.

Chinese Cooking Classes in New York

Finally, if you want to get your feet wet before booking a trip to China, look into courses in New York at the Natural Gourmet Institute. The school occasionally offers evening classes covering an aspect of Chinese cuisine, like vegetarian Chinese dishes. Classes typically last a few hours and are taught by experienced chefs, cookbook authors and culinary school grads. Peruse the online course catalog and calendar for upcoming course dates. The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC also has evening and multi-day classes for Asian cooking enthusiasts, such as “Authentic Hong Kong Dim Sum” and “Discovering Dumplings.”

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