On Friday, July 12, students from the WSSU STARTALK Chinese program took part in a unique, memorable experience, making authentic Chinese food from “scratch” in a real, professional kitchen. The special event was hosted at the Enterprise Center Shared Use Kitchen on MLK Blvd. in Winston-Salem and co-sponsored by the Winston-Salem Sister Cities organization.
“I had never really had real Chinese food before,” said student Jacqueline Bishop, who is a rising sophomore at Atkins HS. The three-week program at Winston-Salem State University accepted 20 high school students and 11 college students for an intensive Chinese language immersion course, with the theme of “Food and Wellness.” From the very start, cultural activities were built into the program, with art, games, music, and food being an integral part of the student activities.
“It was really nice to see the students and staff working together as a team. We were amateurs, but we got to use a professional kitchen, and the food turned out really well,” said Howard Coston, who attends Forsyth Technical Community College. The Chinese bubble tea was a big hit with many of the students, such as Gabrielle Costa, a student at Weaver Academy in Guilford County.
Of the program’s participants, the majority are from Forsyth and Guilford Counties, although one high school student traveled from Alamance County, one college student from Chapel Hill, and another student is even from Louisiana (living with a cousin during the three-week program). There was a waiting list this year for the program, and many of its students already are looking forward to next year’s class, which offers three credit hours for its college students.
“Learning the culture is just as important as learning the language,” in a world language course, said Program Director Wen Xiong, who teaches Chinese at WSSU and is the department chair of its World Languages and Cultures department.
Each day begins with Tai Chi from a master instructor, and the beginning and end of each day also gives students a chance to practice their vocabulary and speech in a technology-based language lab. A healthy breakfast is provided and food is brought in from a variety of Chinese restaurants in the area. Each afternoon, students are engaged in a cultural lesson, learning calligraphy, Chinese games, making foods, and learning about Chinese music.
The program will also take its students to the NC Triangle area to visit a large Chinese market, a Buddhist temple, the Ackland Art Museum, and one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country.
But it was the “Day in the Kitchen” that gave students the opportunity to really explore a full-scale authentic meal. Working together, students and staff spent the morning preparing and cooking dishes, and shared the feast in the afternoon. Dishes included fried rice, vegetable and meat dumplings, eggs with tomato, homemade noodles, and Chinese bubble tea (with its “bubbles” of tapioca pearls). Even the dough for the dumplings and noodles was homemade.
The students also had an activity in the Simon’s Community Gardens community garden space, where they learned about the mission and purpose of the garden, and had a fun activity finding and identifying a variety of vegetables. Raised beds are available for annual rent in the community garden as a part of bringing more fresh, healthy food to the south Winston area. Garden manager Kyle Luth also brings special cooking events to the garden and runs a farmer’s market each Saturday morning with bags of vegetables selling for an affordable $1.
Doug Atkinson was on hand to address the program and its students. “This is such a great opportunity and the perfect setting. I’m glad that Sister Cities could be a part of it,” he said. In the past, Atkinson served on the board for the Enterprise Center, which is an entrepreneurial business hub in South Winston-Salem now thriving with dozens of businesses.
Telissa Ward, Kitchen Manager for the Enterprise Center helped the program with the arrangements, including staffing a professional chef to help with the food prep and cooking. The Enterprise Center’s shared use kitchen is the first of its kind anywhere in Winston-Salem, and is available for businesses to rent out for events.
The Chinese program at WSSU is a free, scholarship-based program offered as a part of the federally funded STARTALK program. Plans are being made to repeat the program in future years. The program website is where students can register, once the program for next year is finalized, as early as January or February 2020. You can see more pictures (and even videos) of the program’s activities at its Google site.
The mission of the Sister Cities organization is to promote awareness and understanding across cultures, through programs and events such as the STARTALK program’s day in the kitchen. The Winston-Salem group has sister cities in Ghana, Liberia, the Bahamas, China, and Moldova, It is actively seeking new members and opportunities to find partnerships in the arts, education, and business to promote its global mission.