Campaign spreads Chinese cooking in the UK

Updated: 2016-05-06 00:06

By CECILY LIU in London(

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Campaign spreads Chinese cooking in the UK

Students at St Michael’s Catholic College in London cook Chinese food in class. [Photo by Cecily Liu/]

For the 13-year-old Joshua Okechukwu and 14-year-old Michael Odutayo, making an authentic Chinese black bean chicken dish in less than half an hour's time is a proud achievement.

"It was hard but fun, I love Chinese food but never learned to make it before," said Odutayo. Not only was their dish professionally presented with neatly chopped up chicken, capsicums, and onion, the taste was also authentic Chinese, infused with a balanced black bean oyster sauce flavor, and can easily pass for restaurant standards.

Okechukwu and Odutayo, pupils at the St Michael's Catholic College in London, learned to make black bean chicken during a school cooking class on Thursday, supported by the Chinese oyster sauce company Lee Kum Kee as a part of its campaign to spread Chinese cooking and eating culture to Britain's young children.

The campaign, known as the Healthy Chinese Cooking Ambassadors, was launched in 2013 by Lee Kum Kee and the London-based Chinese culture charity Ming-Ai (London) Institute. It has already reached more than 70 schools and 1,000 students, and plans to reach an additional 280 schools in the next few years.

"We want to share Chinese food culture with British students, and encourage them to develop healthy eating habits in the process," said Charlie Lee, Lee Kum Kee's chairman, who is also a fourth-generation descendant of the company's founder.

The campaign coincides with a big drive for healthy eating in the UK. Food technology is now a compulsory subject in the British national curriculum for students aged 11-14, as the government is encouraging young pupil to choose healthy home cooking over takeaways.

Meanwhile, Chinese food is becoming ever more popular in the UK, due to a big growth in the number and variety of Chinese restaurants, and their emphasis on healthy and innovative cooking.

"Chinese food's image has dramatically changed, thanks to rise of Chinese celebrity chefs and Chinese recipe books in recent years. The British public is also becoming keener to try new things and they see Chinese food as different and exciting," said Jeremy Pang, founder of the London-based School of Wok, which offers Chinese cooking lessons.

One such example of Chinese celebrity chefs is the 37-year-old Ching He Huang, well known for transforming the British public's perception of Chinese food with her popular BBC cooking showChinese Food Made Easyin 2008. She also wrote six Chinese cookbooks.

All these factors contribute to Chinese food becoming more mainstream in British schools. In 2013 when St Michael's Catholic College had its first Chinese cooking demonstration class, students loved it so much that the school decided in the same year to incorporate Chinese cooking into its year eight cooking curriculum.

"The students love Chinese cooking, and from a school's perspective we are keen to promote it. Ingredients like Lee Kum Kee's sauces make the food really tasty and encourage students to eat more vegetables and maintain a balanced diet that way," said Jonathan Lewis, who is in charge of the school's food technology curriculum.

Lee Kum Kee, founded in 1888, now has sales in more than 100 countries globally. In the UK, it sells to more than 400 supermarkets, convenience stores and grocery stores, including popular supermarkets like Tescos and Waitrose, offering 60-70 types of different products.

Lee said sales have increased in double digits in the UK for the past five years, and the popularity of theHealthy Chinese Cooking Ambassadorsproject certainly helped sales growth, although the firm cannot disclose specific numbers.