Chinese School Trains Next Generation Of Chefs

Chang Le, who goes by the English name Alex, at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in Chengdu. i i

Chang Le, who goes by the English name Alex, is a second-year student at The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in Chengdu. He wants to learn be a chef overseas. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Chang Le, who goes by the English name Alex, at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in Chengdu.

Chang Le, who goes by the English name Alex, is a second-year student at The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in Chengdu. He wants to learn be a chef overseas.

David Gilkey/NPR
Cleaver i i

Students at The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine use a cleaver to chop garlic, peel ginger root and squeeze seeds out of chilies. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Cleaver

Students at The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine use a cleaver to chop garlic, peel ginger root and squeeze seeds out of chilies.

David Gilkey/NPR
Students learn to cook on woks set over intense gas flames. i i

Students learn to cook on woks set over intense gas flames. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Students learn to cook on woks set over intense gas flames.

Students learn to cook on woks set over intense gas flames.

David Gilkey/NPR
Students cook with ginger, scallions, garlic and chilies. i i

Students cook with ginger, scallions, garlic and chilies. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Students cook with ginger, scallions, garlic and chilies.

Students cook with ginger, scallions, garlic and chilies.

David Gilkey/NPR

Imagine a school where the students come armed not with pencils but with cleavers and chopsticks. Instead of in notebooks, their work is done in big, blackened woks. And the smells of ginger and soy, garlic and chili pepper and oil waft through the rooms.

The Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in Chengdu, China, is this place.

The cooking school reopened just a couple of days after the May earthquake that killed tens of thousands in Sichuan province.

At the school, several thousand students undergo formal training to learn the art of modern Chinese cooking, as well as that of other cuisines. The students aim to become the next generation of Chinese chefs.

On one particular day, second-year students were learning how to cook Sichuan dishes including stir-fried bullfrog, fish-flavored stuffed eggplant, and squid with lychee-flavored sauce.

The instructor told the students they would have to cut the squid just right or it wouldn't blossom into a flower shape; it's supposed to look like a chrysanthemum.

While cooking, the only knife the students used was the cleaver, whether they cut squid, peeled ginger root, chopped mounds of garlic, whacked slabs of pork or squeezed the seeds out of chilies.

The students at the school are training in the hopes of finding a job. Some want to go overseas, where chefs are often more highly regarded, said second-year student Chang Le, who goes by the English name Alex.

Chang, 21, said if you're a chef in China, you don't have a lot of stature.

Chang said he first learned how to cook from his father. It was a hobby Chang practiced at home. He said it was when he graduated from high school that he decided he wanted to go overseas.

"I'm very romantic," Chang said. "I want to go abroad for working."

Chang Le, whose name translates to "often happy," said he ultimately wants to go to the Mediterranean region, where he can "work" and "chill" at the same time.

For the summer, Chang joined an exchange program and explored France, including Paris, Marseilles, Cannes and Monaco. It was just as romantic as he imagined, he said.

In the fall, he said, he hopes to go to Australia for a one-year internship at a restaurant.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.