Here at the Abinger Cookery School, we’re lucky enough to work with a group of talented individuals, each as enthusiastic about great food as the next.
Last year, we welcomed a new addition: our kitchen assistant, Stephanie Wang. Stephanie is passionate about cooking and food culture and has brought a whole new set of skills and experiences to the school.
We sat down to ask her a few questions about her background and what brought her to Abinger to join the team…
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I’m originally from mainland China, where I learnt all about catering. I worked at various restaurants, food stores and hotels, where I learnt all about working in a kitchen and cultivated my passion for cooking and hospitality.
I studied hospitality in Beijing for three years before moving to Sheffield in the UK to continue my undergraduate degree in events and leisure management. Then, I moved to the University of Surrey to complete an events management Master’s course.
What’s brought you to the Abinger Cookery School?
I was searching for jobs during the summer after graduating with my Master’s degree, which I finished in September 2021, as I wanted to stay in the UK to continue my career.
Unfortunately, opportunities in the events and hospitality industry weren’t easy to find because of the pandemic. So, after I began looking around for local businesses hiring, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a message from an agency about the job opening at the cookery school.
I’ve loved cooking since I was young, and I’ve always been interested in working in the industry. Starting my career in the UK at a family-run business like the cookery school seemed like the perfect way to combine my interests. Luckily, I got the job, and the rest is history!
What do you love most about cooking, and what is your favourite cuisine?
When it’s me in the kitchen, I enjoy the process of putting a meal together and experimenting with different ingredients. Then, when I finally serve a dish for my friends and family and they love it, I feel very proud!
The greatest satisfaction comes from watching other people enjoy what you’ve made. Plus, when you’re eating something you’ve taken time to prepare yourself, you can appreciate the effort that went into creating it.
As for a favourite cuisine… that’s a tricky question. My friends like to say that I have an international stomach because I love trying new dishes. I’ve done a lot of travelling around Asia and Europe, and I haven’t found anything I don’t like! However, I’d say I enjoy Chinese food most of all. Thai curry is my favourite type of curry, and I also love the fresh flavours of Italian food.
What ingredient couldn’t you live without?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I’d probably say green vegetables if I had to choose one food group. I feel like a meal isn’t complete without some greenery — it makes everything look so fresh and nutritious!
Who inspired you to get into cooking?
My mother and my grandma. I often cooked for myself at home in my younger years, which is where my passion for food originated. My mother would always cook for us at the weekends, and I loved watching and learning from her.
As I grew up, I learnt how to make dumplings and old Chinese recipes from my grandma, who also loves cooking for our family. Before I left for England, she showed me how to make traditional Chinese steamed pudding, season meat and prepare the dough for dumplings at home. Now, I can share all the methods and stories behind the Chinese dishes she taught me with visitors at the cookery school.
Why do you think people love food so much?
If the weather is the main topic of conversation in the UK, in China, it’s food! We have a saying that food is a bit like the sky for people; you can’t live without it. Food is one of the most important things we need to survive, but in countries with long, rich histories associated with cooking, food culture can provide a unique link to the past.
If you could invite any three people, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would they be?
I would love to get the chance to cook for my grandpa again. He sadly passed away last year, and I couldn’t be there due to coronavirus restrictions. I don’t remember the last dish I made for him, but I would love the opportunity to share another dinner.
I would also invite my grandma, as she’s in China with the rest of my family and I haven’t seen her for about two years. We’re very close, and I used to love cooking for her — I miss her a lot.
Finally, I’d like to invite my best friend from the UK! We’ve not had the chance to get together for a while. She’s vegetarian, and I’ve learnt lots of new plant-based recipes here at the school that I’d love to cook for her.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Definitely all the cooking skills and new recipes I can learn here. There’s such a variety of cuisines showcased through our cooking courses, and it’s been great to learn more about western food. I’m thrilled to learn how to make all the foods I usually enjoy but have never known how to prepare for myself until now.
I also adore teaching the dim sum cooking class, and I’m excited to reconnect with home by running the Taste of China course very soon. As the only Asian person at the school, I’m always eager to talk about Chinese culture and food with our team and visitors.
Do you have any hobbies outside of cooking?
Travelling! Before the pandemic, I travelled around over 20 different cities in China and many other countries worldwide. I’m hoping to explore some more of the UK very soon. I’ve got a trip to Scotland coming up soon — I can’t wait!
What would you like to achieve in your career?
One of my main reasons for staying here in the UK is to spread more knowledge about Chinese cooking and culture, as I have found that most people here don’t know much about authentic Chinese cuisine. There’s more to it than takeaway food! Proper Chinese dishes can take hours to prepare, and the results are truly delicious.
Working at the cookery school and joining other courses is helping me feel more confident about getting out there to spread the word about Chinese food culture. I also studied media at school, and once I’ve settled into life here, I might like to branch out onto social media to teach more people about the techniques and history behind the food I grew up eating.
Our team is delighted to have Stephanie on board, and we look forward to learning more about Chinese cuisine during her cooking courses. Contact us at 01306 730470 or email [email protected] to book your place on the Taste of China or Dim Sum: Evening course!