As soon as you step inside Black Sesame Kitchen, you see the Chinese proverb on the wall: “To the people, food is heaven.”
China boasts one of the most diverse culinary cultures and Jen Lin-Liu, an American-born Chinese, is bringing back a traditional way of cooking to the country’s capital.
Set inside a courtyard along Beijing’s hip hutong Nanluoguxiang, Liu’s Black Sesame Kitchen is a cooking school that doubles up as a private kitchen in the evening.
The kitchen was established a year ago to teach wannabe chefs how to make authentic Chinese food.
WiC skipped the cooking school and opted for dinner instead. Reservations are recommended as there is only one sitting a night, with a capacity of 20.
Also, everything is ‘family style’. So unless you book up the entire table for a private dinner, most likely you will be sitting among a bunch of friendly strangers sharing food (don’t worry, everyone adheres to the code of using serving chopsticks and spoons).
Zhang Aifeng and Wang Guizhen – the chef-instructors – work with precision and efficiency in the front of the diners.
The menu changes daily depending on each day’s ingredients. Memorable dishes on the menu the night of our visit were pan-fried dumplings, braised eggplant, kungpao tofu, braised-steamed pork and candied apple.
Dinner was Rmb250 ($36.50) per head including two foreign wine pairings; pricey for Beijing, which explains why there seemed to be few locals at the restaurant.
But the experience stretches beyond the food. The two local chefs were friendly and chatty. We learned, for example, that Wang had been on track to go to medical school until she was ordered by the Party to work in a kitchen during the Cultural Revolution.
Similarly, Zhang told us the reason he became a chef was not for a love of cooking but for job security: “At the end of the day, everyone has to eat, right?”
Black Sesame Kitchen,
3 Black Sesame Hutong, Beijing China; Tel: +86-1369-147-4408.
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