Chinese Curriculum Incorporates Cooking Workshops


Nicholas Lorentzen ’20

Members of the Chinese 350 class watch Michael Webster prepare to cook a wok dish.

Languages embody the culture and history of entire peoples; to truly understand a language, one must also understand the culture from which it arose and developed. For those enrolled in Chinese classes, the study of the language now includes cultural experiences in the form of lessons in Chinese cooking.
Throughout November, classes from all different levels of the Chinese program participated in cooking classes with Mr. Mike Webster, general manager of dining services. Webster taught students how to make a variety of Chinese dishes, including quick fried eggplant and spicy beef stir fry.
Students had a constant stream of questions, ranging from the origins of specific spices and ingredients to the best techniques to apply to their own stir fry experiments in the Dining Hall. Webster loves to cook Chinese cuisine, and says, “[I] always appreciated the story behind food – where it comes from, [and] how it has evolved and traveled.”
Webster drew from his own personal experiences when choosing the dishes for the workshop. He recently traveled to Beijing, which allowed him to experience traditional cooking techniques firsthand. He said, “As a young chef, I worked with many Chinese immigrants in some of the restaurant kitchens I learned in. This was where I learned…how to cook using authentic ingredients and techniques.”
Chinese teachers then talked in Chinese about the dishes that Mr. Webster had just prepared, giving more cultural background and connecting them to the lessons in the classroom. Ms. Lei Pan, instructor in Chinese, said, “If you observe how people cook, you will get a better understanding [of the material].”
Students praised the new approach to learning demonstrated in the workshops. Abby Renger ’23 said, “We learned how to remember the characters [for ingredients], and it made more sense when [Mr. Webster] showed us how to cook the dishes.”
Mr. Webster plans to offer more cooking workshops to the community in the future.