Chinatown cooking class helps students find jobs in non-Asian kitchens

By Yvaine Ye
Medill Reports

English-as-a-second-language students at the community center in Chicago’s Chinatown are learning how to cook food other than Chinese or Asian dishes. They’re also learning the kitchen lingo for non-Asian restaurants.

Bill Wong, a student who used to work in an American-Chinese restaurant, said the experience has been beneficial. He learned how to make food he’s never tried and has cooked it for his family and friends. “I shared some homemade Lasagna with my brother. He loved it,” Wong said.

Like Wong, other students in this culinary training program held by the Chinese American Service League are doing it to find a better job. After 16 weeks of training, students will not only learn kitchen basics like making soups and sauces, but also vocational English — especially vocabulary used in the kitchen. Such skills allow them to search for jobs besides those in Asian restaurants.

Raymond Lau, the language instructor gives pop quizzes to students as he makes his rounds in the kitchen. He asks them to list out the ingredients, cooking methods and procedures.

“A lot of students still have fear inside,” Lau said. “When we’re learning something new, we don’t want to look foolish. So, we don’t want to speak up. We have to help them build up their self-confidence, help them overcome the initial hump, then they will begin to do a lot better.”

This training program is free of charge to qualified low-income students.

Photo at top: Students made pan-seared chicken with couscous as a side dish. (Yvaine Ye/MEDILL)