I had my first Chinese cooking class with George Heriot’s School yesterday and it was also my first proper teaching experience in a school.
Last week, I was contacted by Linsey Ballantyne, who is the teacher of health and food technology at George Heriot’s school regarding teaching her students how to make Chinese dumplings as these dumplings are a huge part of Chinese and Taiwanese traditions during the Chinese New Year period. I was really excited about this project as I have never taught in a school and George Heriot’s is one of the top schools in Edinburgh. Of course I’ve taught many people how to cook many things in professional kitchens and I have done a couple cooking classes outside of restaurants but this is my first school job.
If you follow my blog you will know I studied at Edinburgh College of Art so I have passed George Heriot’s school almost every day for the past three years. I’ve always been completely fascinated about this building because the building itself is breathtakingly beautiful, it’s 388 years old and it’s ranked as one of the very best independent schools in Edinburgh. This is another factor as to why I’m so interested in the school. My daughter Amelia will start school in Autumn 2017 so we’ve started looking at primary schools. Both myself and my husband Chris had indifferent experiences at our own schools and unfortunately our local school is ranked the worst in Edinburgh (87 out of 87) so we’re seriously thinking about going down the independent route.
But back to this blog post, you don’t always get a chance to visit a school like this so this teaching opportunity gave me a chance to visit this truly amazing school.
Chris and I are both very excited about this teaching opportunity. We always say if we are not rich in finance at least we can be rich in life experience. So by visiting this beautiful school there is one thing to tick off from our bucket list.
I have to admit I was very nervous as I have never taught in a school before nor children so I was really worried that they wouldn’t want to listen to me or find that I’m too boring. But thankfully the class which was made up of around 30 pupils (all girls except for 2 boys) were great. They giggled a lot but it felt like they genuinely listened and Linsey said that was the best they had ever behaved in class. So, I must have done something right?!
When I demonstrated four different ways to make dumplings I have never heard so many “wows” in my life and that was a very interesting experience. Most of the time when I teach junior chefs in the kitchen they are either quiet, have an attitude in general, have an attitude with me because I’m a woman (remember real chef environments are still very much male dominated) or in some cases have an attitude with me because I look “Chinese” and so they don’t think they have to listen. So most of the time I have to be aggressive with my students which made me loose interest in teaching anyone. This is also another reason why I haven’t taught for a while so I’ve been spending my last couple years working on my illustration business as well as my writing job at about.com Chinese food. I’m also working on my third cook book right now which is taking up a lot of time but I’m super excited to see the final product.
Linsey, the other two teachers and her assistant were all very helpful and friendly. Linsey was especially awesome (she’s the lady in the middle below) and I thought she was really easy to talk to and working with her felt completely natural. It was also awesome to learn that she visited Shanghai in the past which is somewhere I lived for one year. Her comment that she has “never eaten Chinese food in the UK since coming back from China” was brilliant. Chris is exactly the same. After he travelled to China and then travelled to Taiwan a few times he/we very rarely eat Chinese food outside. I think for a teacher who has researched other people’s work/cooking and invited them to come into her class and get them to teach speciality foods is absolutely great.
I remember in Taiwan we didn’t really have cooking classes at school and Chris said when he was at school they were only taught how to make British food. Maybe this is a “independent school / George Heriot” thing but it’s great and Linsey was awesome to work with.
I would really love to go back to teach any of students again or even if other schools have interest in Chinese cooking class. Something I have to bare in mind next time is time management. We only had 1.5 hours for the class and that included some of the prep, making the dumplings and cooking them in two different ways. When I make dumplings at home I usually make between 80-100 and I’ll usually spend a few hours making the mixture and then I’ll make them while watching TV/drinking tea etc. For the class I had to prepare mixture for around 300 dumplings. I intended for the students to be able to make around 10 dumplings each but everyone did really well. The students had to leave at five but apart from a couple students who had to shoot off (they took dumplings anyway) everyone managed to boil their dumplings in class. As well as boiling the dumplings I showed them how to pan fry the dumplings as well.
As I explained in class, during the Chinese New Year we’ll make masses of dumplings but because we make and cook so many there are always leftovers. So the next day(s) when we want to eat something we just quickly pan fry them and they’re absolutely delicious.
We weren’t allowed to take any photographs of the students due to protections rules/laws but we took some photos anyway. Incidentally the dumpling fills I made were “prawn and sponge gourd” and “pork and Chinese chive”. Sponge gourd (also known as luffa), which is the long green vegetable above, is popular in the East and is a really interesting/unique vegetable. I must also mention that I decided to buy all the ingredients from See Woo in Glasgow. We had been wanting to find an excuse to go to Glasgow for a few weeks and See Woo Chinese Supermarket was the only Chinese supermarket in the area that had enough sponge gourd. I called ahead with an order, picked up on the Sunday afternoon and then had lunch at See Woo restaurant which is my favourite Chinese restaurant in the area.