Once a year, I get to judge on the FunHCCA cookery competition where 10 food teachers all around the U.K. come together at the MingAi charity centre in north London to showcase their recipes. I comment on the overall healthy aspects of the methods and balance of the dishes. Together with other panel members, we pick the top three teachers who win a week-long trip and culinary adventure to Hong Kong.
Spearheaded by MingAi charity and Lee Kum Kee Europe, this is a teacher-training programme to equip teachers with the techniques to cook Chinese food with their students. Chinese sauces have a particular role in imparting flavours during the cooking process, rather than just a base or dip. We talk about how soy sauce, is considered as one of the seven essentials「開門七件事」underpinning a Chinese household, and the use of oyster sauce – which tastes perfect with any mushroom dish – but so little known outside of the Chinese diaspora.
It was very interesting to see how teachers use these key sauces with their students, rather than sachets of pre-made sauces which may be more popular in the UK market. However, given the appropriate use of soy and oyster sauces, options are endless in the kitchen. For example, oyster sauce with its umami flavours, can be used as a marinade such as Cornish pasties (below), a truly wonderful combination of East and West!
Another important aspect of this programme is the focus on the cutting and cooking techniques – stir-fry, steam, braise. It all seems quite simple but is quite different to what the children know, particularly in areas outside of London.
I am delighted to join the delegation in Hong Kong this year at their school visit at Pooi To Middle School. There was a presentation by the students to make wonton, a Cantonese style prawn and meat dumpling served with noodles. The U.K. teachers introduced Cornish pasties – which also requires a bit of folding and shaping – and then made them for “afternoon tea”.
These exchanges are so important in food education and can act as a kind of diplomacy to nurture understanding in each other’s history and culture through the lens of food. Projects as such are rare, but with the right funding and context, there is a lot of potential that international relations and friendships are built on education. After all, food is an important tangible material which helps to connect people across the globe.