Teaching the teacher

Last week, the American master chef Kevin Storm visited our kitchen. He was not here to advise or teach us – he was here to learn how to make local-style dumplings. In particular, he wanted to study vegetarian dumplings with me, so he can make them for his vegan daughter.

Kevin is the assistant manager of the American Culinary Federation. He instructs students from throughout the USA, and leads them to take part in culinary competitions around the world. Kevin is also the executive chef at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

Kevin said that Taiwan is famous for dumplings, so he wanted to take this opportunity to learn how to make dumplings well.

Despite being a much more experienced chef than me, Keven was still an excellent student. I could tell that this was not his first time making dumplings, but during the class, he listened to every detail, and followed every instruction. He told me that he has tried to make the same dough himself, but it hadn’t turned out as well as it did during our class. And he also wanted to improve his dumpling folding skill.







Here are some interesting parts of our conversation (I’ve expressed Kevin’s ideas in my own words, from memory, so any mistakes are mine):

Q: How do you tell your students to prepare for cooking competitions?

A: I think the students should be true to themselves, and true to the ingredients, but also understand the local ingredients, and present them appropriately.

Taiwan, for example, has its own unique seafood, such as the local snapper and jewfish. The student should learn the special features of these local ingredients, and cook them appropriately.

But on the other hand, the students don’t need to try anything fancy during the contest. For instance, if they’re given good, fresh squid, they could just do what they usually do back in the US: dip it in butter batter and deep fry it for 30 seconds. There’s no need to show off during the event.

In general, the contestant should be certain about their cooking methods: braising, grilling, steaming, or roasting. They should be clear about what they’re doing, and not be ambiguous about the cooking style.

Q: Psychologically, how do you encourage your students to prepare for the competition?

A: I tell them that this is an opportunity to learn about the world, to spend time with great and talented people. This kind of international competition is the opportunity to learn from the best and to grow.


Q: How do you instruct staff who are working with you in the kitchen?

A: Again, ‘be true to yourself’ is what I usually say. Cook what you can; don’t try to cook something which ‘isn’t you’.

For example, if my staff are from Taiwan, then I would ask them to cook dishes from Taiwan, their family dishes, recipes they grew up with, the things they know best. Because when they can cook freely and without pressure, then we can design dishes that make the most of the chef’s own skills, taste and specialties.

 

Q: What kind of student you are looking for?

A: Someone with potential who is willing to work hard. Cooking is hard work – when people are having fun is the time we are working hard. We often work from 10am to 10pm.

If you don’t have the will to work hard, it’s not possible to perform well. When I see someone talented who is willing to work, I’ll do my best to help them and bring out their best, so they can be a great cook in future.

 

Q: When did you start developing your vision of cooking?

A: I spent two years learning cooking in France when I was younger. I was encouraged to learn not only about food, but also to gain a deeper understanding of the background and culture of the food, to understand why each dish was originally developed. I’ve been instructing my students and staff this way for more then thirty years. This is how I connect with the world, and how I give back to the world. Because this is the way I was taught.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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