Untested Cooking Scheme

Back in the days before I had an ayi to cook for me, I taught spoken English classes at ZUCC in Hangzhou. I had a pretty nice apartment there with a full kitchen. I could have easily hired a cook there too, but never did. I rarely cooked myself, besides boiling frozen dumplings in instant soup and then dousing them with sweet and spicy sauce. Most of my meals were spent with my awesome co-workers at ZUCC.

Still, in my last semester at ZUCC I hatched a plan. It was cunning. It was brilliant. It was never put into effect. But maybe there’s still hope for some enterprising teachers in China if I share it in my blog.

OK, let me lay it out for you.

  • When I was there, the teachers at ZUCC liked home-cooked meals, but they were lazy. For some reason they were also unwilling to hire a cook.
  • The students ate in the cafeteria day after day. They longed for home-cooked food, but had no cooking facilities. Some of them were even great cooks, but had no way to share their gift.

Do you see where I’m going with this? You may think you do, but it gets better.

The process goes like this:

  1. Announce to each class that you’re holding a cooking competition in your own home. Students who wish to enter should enter in teams of 2 or 3. Have them sign up and include what evenings they’re free. Share with them your judging criteria and tell them what cooking facilities/supplies you have. Tell them they will be cooking enough food for 4-5 people.
  2. Create a schedule for the teams. There are several ways you can do it. If you have a lot of classes, you might want to assign a whole week (Monday through Friday) to each class. Each night of that week one team would come to your place and then cook and eat with you. Alternatively, you could assign a day of the week to each class, and a different team could come every week.
  3. Tell the students they have a 20rmb budget for the dinner (which is plenty). They know what they’re going to make, so they need to buy the ingredients and then show up at your place to prepare it. Unless you’re a jerk, you should reimburse the students the 20rmb. You might have to fight to make them take it, but you really should. If they spent less than 20rmb, they’ll give you the change. I really doubt any students would try to “make money” by making a super cheap meal.
  4. Stay out of the way while your students prepare the meal. Two or three people is plenty to get the job done. When the meal is done, take pictures of it with your digital camera.
  5. Around this time, the “guest judge” of the evening arrives. That’s your friend. (If you want, you can even charge him 10rmb for the meal or make him help with the dishes.)
  6. After the meal chat with the students for a while and then secretly write down your judgments.
  7. Your students will probably try to wash your dishes for you (but not in every case). Handle that how you see fit.
  8. Put the pictures online with a description. You might want to include the judges’ scores. That’s your call.

I think originally I had it all worked out to the point where I could even make money on the scheme, and everyone was happy. Perhaps it’s better that it never went into effect, though. It had all the makings of a scandal.

Sooo… who’s gonna try it?? (Let me know.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. This is THE funniest (and smart)scheme planned by a “teacher”. This is a good example of how an active and energetic imagination work for your own good. Just curious, how come you have never tried it out yourself?

  2. This IS BRILLIANT! One of my teacher-buddies in Pengzhou had an at-home class for a special treat — half the class had to sign up for one day and half the class for another. They actually stormed her desk and knocked over all the desks and chairs in the class. She said it was THE most scary experience she’d had in teaching (she was just trying to show that me being mobbed by teenage boys wanting a photo with me wasn’t that bad..I’m actually not exaggerating). But this, this is organised and sedate, and you get to know your students too.

    The most disturbing thing about my husband bringing kids home to visit is that because they call him laoshi, they call me ayi. But they’re 16 or so, and I’m only 24!! I don’t think I deserve to be called Ayi yet.

  3. Years ago in Texas, an older friend claimed that she fell for a cooking scheme. You know how in the States it is next to impossible to afford a fulltime domestic help. So this simple ad was posted in a supermarket for a Chinese home cook for a small-town “rich” family. When my friend responded the terms verbally spelt out included a trial period of a mere two weeks (forgot if at full rate, probably was), fair enough, and she was told that she should really show off all the best of her skills during that period and try not to repeat any one dish unless specifically requested. Her native Shandong dishes were encouraged but other styles, northern or southern, would also be welcome, and the budget was very flexible. Really to show appreciation and support for the work of the new help, her employers invited all their friends over who would also help them out with critiques. The whole two weeks resembled intensive bombing of Texas-sized banquets for the same group, all smiles and praises, alcohol-belching of course. At the end of the trial period, completely exhauseted yet proud herself of having pulled it off, she was summoned from the kitchen and let go…

  4. Not bad. I’d have saved quite a bit of trouble if you had posted this a few years ago. Before I left my former university, I had students over in small groups to my place for dinner, but rather than having them cook Chinese for me, I cooked Western for them. Lots of fun, but tons of work. And of course they felt bad and wanted to reimburse me, so I was left with enough fruit to feed all of the foreign teachers for a month.

    Many of them wanted to help, but it was fairly obvious that apart from wrapping jiaozi or steaming rice, most of them had not seen the inside of a kitchen. To make your scheme work you’d probably have to have several rounds–prelims, elimination, and finals based on several criteria (“OK, this round’s special ingredient is Balsam Pear!”)

  5. Alice,

    I guess I was just worried about being perceived as exploiting my students. Especially if money were involved, it could look kind of shady….

  6. zhwj,

    The number of students in the class that could actually cook would definitely be a major factor. When I taught, though, I got the impression that a lot of them could.

    Or maybe they just thought they could. That sure would suck if I implemented the scheme and was subjected to weeks of bad cooking, or night after night of tomato and eggs.

  7. You could even make it mandatory that the groups take 20RMB when they sign up. They have to spend as close to it as they can and have to provide receipts translated in English.

    Unfortuantely, though I have tons of students, most are under 6 years old, so I will have to bystand.

  8. Perhaps it didn’t go through because it was just too easy to go to the “smokehouse” dining house and get your grub on with all your colleagues.

    The plan can still work, implement it and report back to Sinosplice.

  9. this idea is very tempting…

  10. We now have more and more restaurants/canteens along Zhoushan East Road and about. Many of us eat there more often than on campus.

    Your scheme sounds a good one and is in detail. You really should have carried it out! I hope Russell sees this post 🙂

  11. sounds like a smashing idea!It also remind me of sth of last semester.My English teacher invited me and my roommates to her apartment to cook.As we haven’t got any cooking facilities in our dormitory,my roommates(of course ,the ones who are good at cooking)have been looking for an opportunity to show their gift of cooking.Ye,here’s the shot for them.And what about me? haha,how can I refuse such an chance to show my appetite? I just have to eat~
    Heihei~A NOTE:Be careful of someone who is good at eating(just like me)to join in this plan for his appetite~

  12. Sounds so great in theory….hmmm.. however, I don’t know if it could work. Being back at ZUCC again, that would be an awesome way for me to have some really good home-made meals and for students to implement their English food vocabulary! On the other end, there might be a disaster in my apartment, like the one fire that I started (lol)…carelessly not watching the stove for a couple of minutes. Darn gas stoves!! (too hot!)

  13. Nice to have you back, Helene!

  14. Rainbow,

    Are there going to be any FOREIGN TEACHER speeches this semester or next? You should make a request to the foreign language department (attn: Rose). The new teachers should have a prerequisite and the continuing teachers should have an option to do it. It’s really rewarding for the teachers, colleagues and especially the students. Besides, when else can you speak in front of hundreds of people in an auditorium and have your speech recorded. Oh, that was only John 😉 But still, do it!

  15. Anonymous Says: December 2, 2004 at 9:26 am

    Sounds like a good plan, however many students these days are inept at cooking. You have to be pretty savvy in finding the ‘legimitate’ cooks, otherwise you will be spending lots of time and money eating mediocre meals that may cause you a ‘tummy ache’ later.

    But, I think the ‘bad cooks’ would not dare to try to cook a meal for a foreigner unless they were desperate to practice their English or had a devious plan to ruin your appetite.

  16. It is really awesome to have such cunning idea, but pretty good mind (To: John).
    IS there really many masters in the cooking?
    Why I did not find one?
    But the fact is that I am not good at it at all, but I do have a very good appetite and enough gourmet.hehe….

  17. Wilson,
    Those speeches actually involved a bunch of us in the past besides John. You, Simon, Ben, Jo and I all did speeches and from what I remember a few of my students were able to get copies of my recorded speech…HOW FRIGHTENING! I’m so glad no one’s approached me about that lately. I prefer talking in smaller settings, for example, I participated in an “I SAY” (student English organization) round table type of discussion, smaller number of people in a circle making it informal…definitely more comfortable.

    **P.S. Rose (aka “Zhu Hui Ying”) no longer works at ZUCC, she left 3 months ago. New staff here and they suck!! I really miss Rose! Plus, they really don’t speak any other foreign languages although they’re the foreign language department office! (Only one of the secretaries speaks English and she’s a bit ditzy)

  18. Ha, Helene knows everything 🙂

    Wilson, some of those speech records are still available online (ZUCC network), among which i think i recognised urs and Helene’s – clear and nice! Yep, maybe our English Community will host such a speech soon.

  19. Zhao Zedi Says: December 3, 2004 at 4:25 am

    Awesome idea! I may try this when I’m at ZUCC next semester…

  20. Pretty cool! Thanks for the 411, Helene. BTW, sorry to hear about Rose. Any of the original team there? Prof. Wan left, Rose left, what about our tutor, Mary and Chen Yao?

  21. Wilson, Prof. Wan still teaches in ZUCC.

  22. Kiet Nguyen Says: October 18, 2006 at 7:34 am

    Can you let me know more about the Cooking Class in China (address and phone No…) special at Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou and Shanghai. Where is ZUCC? Thanks

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