Everybody Eats, How Many Cooks?

Talking about food could be a fun and nonthreatening topic for anyone to strike up a conversation with others. Especially, for me, an immigrant who lacks knowledge of cultural insights, jokes and references, when awkwardness falls upon me during a social gathering, I try to steer the conversation into food and cooking, to cover up my inadequateness. Often, it is an interesting topic for students to be engaged in the classroom early on as well.

Everybody LOVES to talk about their favorite foods and restaurants! However, for teens, how many likes to cook?
When my students reach Intermediate Mid level according to ACTFL’s Proficiency Standard, most likely, I’ll launch a cooking show project.

Here is what I do normally.

1. Preparation on students’ understanding of Chinese Regional Cuisine
Students research Chinese regional cuisines. To find out how geographical locations, weather and local resources, etc impact the development of Chinese regional cuisines. Then, they use a thinking routine, “Connect-Extend-Explore “, an adaptation from “Connect-extend-challenge” and “think-puzzle-explore” to activate their previous knowledge of Chinese cuisine, to expend on their understanding by researching more and eventually, they are asked to choose one representative dish from two of the regional cuisines which they are interested in, eventually, they will narrow down to one, that would be the dish they will cook and make a cooking show on it.

2. Cooking instruction preparation via TPR
One of the most challenging grammar structures in Chinese is the “Ba” construction (把字句). . Because it changes the Chinese sentence pattern from Subject + Verb + Object to Subject + Object + Verb. Quite many students can get confused. In cooking, “ba” construction is essential in giving instructions in Chinese.
This portion takes place way before we launched into our cooking show unit. It takes 5 minutes of daily practice at the beginning of each class. We divided the TPR verbs into four categories: A. Cooking method B. Cooking Preparation C. Cutting method. D. Describing/tasting a dish
A. Cooking method: pan-fried, deep fried, stir-fry, boil, grill/bake/roast, and steam (煎炸炒煮烤蒸)along with different food items which typically associate with these cooking methods. For example: pan-fried potstickers (煎锅贴), deep-fried chicken (炸鸡块) or steamed vegetables/fish (蒸蔬菜/鱼).
After they have required these essential phrases, create a personalized Q/A session regarding their diet preference, frequency and health projection.
B. Cooking Preparation : wash, cut, stir, flip, put in, pour in, mix together, add in, take out, put on side, pinch together, and wrap together. (洗一洗,切一切,搅一搅,翻一翻,把…放进/倒进,把…搅在一起,把…加进,把…拿出来,把…放在一边,捏一捏,包一包.) Be creative during this part. Each phrase can give so much fun when you are flexible and focus on having fun. For example, “to wash”. I brought in different body parts, doing laundry/dishes (in Chinese, it is the same word), different food items, acquiring about their/siblings’ personal hygiene habits including whether they wash hands before meal and after using bathroom. Trust me, I got lots of laughters out of them.
C. Cutting method: in Chinese, this part could be tricky. as “dice”, “mince” or “cut” are different in English. In Chinese, it all starts with cutting, plus a complement. “把…切成块”, “把…切成丁”, “把…切成条”, “把…切成丝”, “把…切成末”, “把…切碎”.
D. Describing/tasting a dish: smell, taste, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy (闻一闻,尝一尝,酸甜苦辣咸).

3. Cooking Show Project guideline
Now, it’s time to warm students up for the actual cooking show project. The project guideline and rubric are posted. Chinese Cooking Show Rubric Cooking Show Project Students are asked to narrow down their choices to one final dish. They are asked to get their ingredients together and be ready to cook in 3 weeks.

4. Movie Talk authentic Chinese dishes
At this point, I start to Movie Talk some typical dishes in China. Some is based on its popularity such as “dumplings” and “steamed baozi”, some is based on its regional representation. I often chose a short video clip less than 4 minutes. The video includes a clear ingredients list, preparation process, cooking procedure and final product. Few samples I used are: Orange beef, Hong-sue spare ribs, park dumplings, Kongpong chicken, mopo doufu, tomato and eggs, stir-fry vegetables, etc. Students are asked to narrate along the lip, describe it to each other or write about, depending on which skills need to be enhanced at different points.

5. Draft their recipe and cooking procedure
Once they turn in their recipe and cooking procedure, I discuss each one with them individually. Some choices could be either too simple or complex, some procedure could be too minimal. After students receive a constructive feedback from me, they will be sharing with each other about what they were going to cook and how.

6. It’s time to cook and share your dish. Here is a cooking show sample for you to enjoy!

7. Reflect
During this project, most students were excited. However, there was one student in particular who dragged his feet through this whole process. When I contacted his mom, mom was very protective of her son. She explained to me that this kid doesn’t like cooking at all, that was why he was procrastinating so much. I replied as: “I could totally relate to him as at different points, we all have to do something which we are not 100% passionate about it. The chance to challenge oneself under this circumstance, to build grit and resilience is much greater than staying in a comfort zone.” That kid, in the end, came through. He made delicious potstickers for his family, his mom praised him so much.
Due to this unique episode in class, I thought it would be beneficial for students to reflect on this process. Therefore, I used two more different thinking routine to help them to think deeper.
I took a big post paper and divided it into four sections: What went well. What could be improved. I used to think of cooking as… Now, I think cooking as…

It helped students to become aware of their effort and areas for improvement. Most importantly, to realize that cooking is not as tidioues, strange or difficult as they had thought. It is an important skill to have, it is simple and can be fun. It bonds a family together.
So, what are you waiting for?

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