British food is Olympian challenge for Chinese chefs

LONDON Mon Feb 25, 2008 1:19pm GMT

A sign informing tourists that British breakfast is offered at a beach bar of Faliraki resort on the Dodecanese island of Rhodes August 24, 2003. Some 1,000 Chinese cooks are coming to England to learn how to make bubble and squeak, bangers and mash and other English delicacies for athletes and tourists at the Olympics in China this summer. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

A sign informing tourists that British breakfast is offered at a beach bar of Faliraki resort on the Dodecanese island of Rhodes August 24, 2003. Some 1,000 Chinese cooks are coming to England to learn how to make bubble and squeak, bangers and mash and other English delicacies for athletes and tourists at the Olympics in China this summer.

Credit: Reuters/Yiorgos Karahalis

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LONDON (Reuters) - Han Ming watched his teacher slice the fatty rind off a boiled ham and shook his head in amazement at the waste in British cooking.

The 43-year-old chef is one of the first of some 1,000 Chinese cooks coming to England to learn how to make bubble and squeak, bangers and mash and other English delicacies for athletes and tourists at the Olympics in China this summer.

"In China, what you call rubbish we cook into another delicious meal," he said.

Food Preparation Lecturer Jonathon Emson has knocked up a week-long crash course on Western cuisine for the 400 cooks who will come to his college in southeastern England as part of a worldwide programme designed to teach Chinese chefs how to make food from other countries in time for Beijing 2008.

Dressed in smart white uniforms complete with very tall chef's hats, one of the first groups crowded around Emson and watched intently as he demonstrated how to mash a swede, roast potatoes, boil a ham or fry up a full English breakfast.

With only five days to learn a variety of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts, the chefs scribbled notes and videotaped the demonstrations.

"I think it is very necessary for China to offer the genuine Western food to foreigners. It is their need and it is our duty," said Zhao Yanbin, the Chinese official in charge of the visiting chefs.

Those entrusted to Emson at Hastings College will learn to cook traditional British fare using ingredients some have never seen before.

"I do get confused looks sometimes as they try and compare what is similar to their ingredients," Emson told Reuters.

The Chinese chefs were far too polite to say anything other than "Yes, I like it", through a translator when asked how English food compares to their own.

But they called Western cooking "hard work" and said it was much more labour intensive than Chinese cuisine.

"With British food we need to measure everything and we need to wait and we need to clean everything. But in Chinese cooking you can cook all the things together -- and it is delicious," said fellow chef Qing Hua Lin.

Each team of visiting chefs will learn different dishes, so that when they return home they can pass on their new-found skills and try to spread knowledge of Western cuisine across Olympic kitchens before the foreigners arrive.

"They are very attentive, taking notes all the time and just generally really interested to learn," he said. "They have a different work ethic than us over here."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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