Eating to learn

Workshops on cooking Chinese dishes will be included in offerings from the Confucius Institute at UC Davis. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times / December 9, 2011)

Imagine studying and eating Chinese food all day.

Well, UC Davis is making that a reality. The university is launching the Confucius Institute, dedicated to Chinese food and beverages. Fronted by Charles Shoemaker, a UC Davis professor of food science and technology, the program is the first of its kind and will be established in conjunction with China's Jiangnan University – a Wuxi-based school that specializes in food science. 

“We are both strong in the food sciences so it was natural that we partnered together,” said Linxia Liang, co-director of the institute and director of Asian international programs at UC Davis.

The institute will not issue degrees. Proposed courses will include lectures on Chinese tea and cuisine, workshops on cooking, social drinking, Chinese holiday food, business and culinary traditions. Intensive Mandarin-language learning camps will be available for high school students in addition to graduate and faculty research opportunities. While a basic fee will be required, Liang said that most lectures will be open to the public.

Celebrity chef Martin Yan will act as a culinary adviser to the program. Yan, who is best known for the PBS series "Yan Can Cook," holds bachelor and master’s degrees in food science from UC Davis.

Confucius Institutes are nonprofits set up by Hanban, an administrative arm of the Ministry of Education in China. The goal is to promote Chinese language and culture internationally; there are 90 of them across the United States, but the one in Davis will be the first in the world to focus solely on culinary studies. There are four others in California at UCLA, Stanford University and San Diego and San Francisco state universities.

The UC Davis program was established through a five-year agreement with possibility of renewal and the cost is fronted by both the Chinese government and UC Davis.

"Learning each other's language and culture will be helpful to enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American people and to promote the growth of China-U.S. relations," Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote to Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor of UC Davis, regarding the new institute. 

And with China’s wine industry growing faster than ever and an increasing crossover between the two countries’ food sectors, the institute hopes to become a bridge between the food and wine industries of California and China.

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