Through cultural house, students practice Asian cooking

This year, students who wish to cook or sample traditional Asian dishes need look no further than the kitchen of the Asian American Cultural Center.

Since the start of the fall semester, the AACC has begun a series of workshops titled “Connect with Cooking.” Interested or culinarily inclined students can sign up for classes — which last multiple hours each — where they can learn how to cook Asian cuisine. Due to the popularity of the AACC’s first two classes, which were held in September and October, AACC coordinators have decided to establish the workshops as a permanent series, with sessions running once every few weeks throughout the rest of the academic year.

“To us, food is a form of culture,” said Tony Chen ’15, arts co-coordinator of the AACC. “The process of making this art is what we want people to experience.”

At each workshop, which is led by a volunteer student chef, students can choose to participate in the preparation of the food and then enjoy their own dishes, or they can come midway through the workshop for only the dinner. The student chef who leads the workshop creates the evening’s menu well in advance and then coordinates with AACC staff members to settle on the workshop’s specific date.

This year’s cooking series stems from the organization’s desire to connect with students regardless of their racial backgrounds, and it aims to bring people into the AACC who might not otherwise visit, said AACC Arts Co-Coordinator Simona Shimeng ’16. Through each workshop, she said, students learn about different regional Asian foods while socializing with peers or newfound friends.

“You get to meet people that you normally wouldn’t meet because they’d be eating in other dining halls,” said Qingyang Chen ’17, an AACC member who has attended both classes so far this semester. “I felt like I was back at home eating my mom’s cooking.”

At the most recent workshop, which took place during fall break, student chef Luming Chen ’14 led the preparation of traditional Chinese Sichuan food. Chen — who prepared for the workshop by picking up ingredients from local grocery stores before the workshop — said she greatly enjoyed sharing his love for spicy food with other students.

Hardly hesitating to add some kick to her fish fillet, mapo tofu and Chinese broccoli, Chen recalled that the students at his workshop probably used up a “whole jar of spicy bean paste, more than a quart of crushed red chili peppers and probably around a cup of Sichuan peppercorn.”

“[The workshop] is a great way to sample delicious dishes from various Asian cultures,” she said. “[And] for people who like to cook, the cooking series is a great way to share your food with friends and classmates.”

The first cooking workshop, which served as a kickoff dinner, featured pork belly and bok choy. Though a cooking glitch during this workshop caused some pieces of rice to not be fully cooked, Qingyang Chen said the chef was able to teach and cook without following a strict recipe.

Because Chinese cooking usually does not follow recipes anyway, the workshop easily adapted to a freehand teaching style, Chen added.

Though interested in learning Asian cooking, several students interviewed said they wished they had more free time to attend one of the workshops.

“I probably don’t go because my schedule does not permit it,” said Melia Bernal ’17. “[But] they don’t do Asian food right in the dining hall, so it’s nice to have authentic food somewhere on campus.”

All sessions are capped at 16 students to keep the setting intimate and ensure that there is enough food to go around.

Correction: Nov. 5

A previous version of this article misidentified the gender of Luming Chen ’14. 

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