Cooking A Way Out of Poverty | China Unlocked

By Chen Weizan, Huang Chufang

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A training class of Cantonese Chef Program.

Chinese cuisine is renowned for its cultural tradition and long history. Among the six cities listed as UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy, three are in China: Chengdu in Sichuan Province, Macao Special Administrative Region, and Shunde in Guangdong Province. Guangdong is considered the cradle of Cantonese cuisine, one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisine which is exceptional for its inventive culinary techniques, creative methods of presentation and outstanding flavors.

Unlike Sichuan and Hunan cuisines which can be found almost everywhere in China, Cantonese dishes are highly demanding on cooking skills, not to mention in terms of ingredients, which limits its popularity nationwide to some extent. The key to promoting the Cantonese gastronomic culture is training more highly skilled Cantonese chefs. With more chefs mastering Cantonese cooking, restaurants with authentic Cantonese flavor would become better poised to develop and spread— a trend in direct alignment with the poverty alleviation plans of Guangdong Province.

The provincial government of Guangdong has been promoting the Cantonese Chef Program since April 2018, which highlights developing workers with exceptional skills and the craftsmanship spirit. Aiming to create jobs, encourage entrepreneurship and realize targeted poverty alleviation, the program is a key measure of Guangdong’s rural vitalization strategy.

15,000 Participants in a Year

He Haifeng is a beneficiary of the Cantonese Chef Program. Hailing from Xinyi County of Maoming City, Guangdong Province, he started a Cantonese catering business in his hometown after finishing the training course. Becoming a boss as well as a chef, He hired 12 people and motivated local farmers to grow various foods because the business needs local ingredients for Cantonese cooking. The catering business has been serving an increasing number of tourists and now his annual revenues exceed 800,000 yuan with profits of over 100,000 yuan. He’s story is a pristine example of how training a single person could lift a family out of poverty and motivate the entire area to develop.

Such examples are not scarce. Since its inception, the Cantonese Chef Program has been progressing steadily across Guangdong Province. Over the past year, the program trained a total of 15,000 people in Cantonese cooking. It also explored the treasure trove of rural Cantonese dishes by establishing 63 tourism spots and 39 routes following rural Cantonese cuisine, which effectively promoted employment through vocational skill development and poverty alleviation.

To further standardize Cantonese cuisine, relevant departments of Guangdong developed criteria for 10 vocational skills including Teochew cuisine, Hakka cuisine, typical Cantonese dishes and desserts. Across the province are now 147 vocational schools with majors relevant to Cantonese cuisine, enabling 56,000 students to learn Cantonese cooking.

Ren Yuling, a renowned economist and former counselor of the State Council, agrees that many people have realized targeted employment and escaped poverty thanks to the Cantonese Chef Program. Practice has shown that the program builds a bridge between talent training and targeted poverty alleviation, paving a promising road to a better life.

Promoting Progress

According to Yang Hongshan, deputy director of Human Resources and the Social Security Department of Guangdong Province, the department would accelerate fostering personnel with cooking skills. The program is estimated to be able to train as many as 50,000 chefs and help 300,000 people become employed or start a business by 2022, enabling Guangdong to tackle the problem of urban rural divide and balance economic growth.

However, amid mass training of Cantonese chefs, challenges have emerged in establishing high-level cooking requirements and guaranteeing the quality of training courses because such factors directly influence the continuity of Cantonese gastronomic culture. For this reason, the program developed a set of criteria for the evaluation of qualified Cantonese chefs and managed to support mass fostering of talent.

Moreover, the provincial government has been pushing the program towards further development through multiple ways: Consolidating training platforms. The government endeavors to build priority schools offering majors in Cantonese cuisine, establish provincial-level training bases and workshops for master chefs, and subsidize participants and training projects with local characteristics.

Enhancing the program’s influence through cooking competitions. Various activities for Cantonese chefs have been organized across the province including promotions, contests for Cantonese cuisine entrepreneurs, apprenticeships with famous Cantonese chefs, restaurant pop-ups, food sampling and presentations of Cantonese cooking.

Supporting participants to pursue skill-based careers. The government offers subsidies, secured loans and discount loans to encourage Cantonese chefs to launch rural catering businesses, open Cantonese restaurants and seek business opportunities outside the province. Job fairs specifically for Cantonese chefs have also been organized.

Cooperating on targeted poverty alleviation. The government has selected a number of major catering enterprises to establish training bases and conduct interprovincial cooperation to help participants escape poverty. Relevant departments organize a series of Cantonese cooking training classes for registered people struggling with poverty including regular vocational education, voluntary short-term training courses, distance education and labor collaboration. By pairing cooks with enterprises, impoverished areas become better poised to leverage targeted poverty alleviation measures and achieve rural vitalization.

Copyedited by Tian Yuerong

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