Chinese cuisine is 'underrated, misunderstood in the West'

Chinese cuisine is 'underrated, misunderstood in the West'

British foodie Fuchsia Dunlop discusses her love affair with Sichuanese food and explains why fermented tofu is not at all revolting
Fuchsia Dunlop -- main
Dunlop (middle) was the first ever foreign student at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu.

A meal at a modest restaurant in Sichuan in the 1990s changed Briton Fuchsia Dunlop’s life.

The former news editor then followed her heart (and taste buds) to train as chef at Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. She was the school’s first ever foreign student.

The London-based cook, food writer and consultant sat down with CNN to share her passion for Chinese cuisine, particularly Sichuanese food.

CNN: What sparked your interest in Sichuanese cuisine?

Fuchsia Dunlop: I got very interested in China through a job subediting news reports about the east Asian region, particularly China. So I started Mandarin evening classes and went on holiday to China and was fascinated.

I'd been in Sichuan in 1993 when coming back from a holiday to Tibet and had an amazing lunch with some dishes I never forgot.

I had looked up a Sichuanese musician whom I'd met in my hometown of Oxford, and he and his wife took me out. It was at a very modest little restaurant, but we had a delicious meal and ended up on the riverbank drinking jasmine tea at a teahouse. At that moment, I thought, I want to come back and live here.

The next year, I applied for a British Council scholarship to study minorities, culture and history at Sichuan University. While in Sichuan, I started cooking in my spare time and investigating the food. It gradually just took over, and I realized that was the thing that I really wanted to study.

CNN: You were the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. How did that come about?

Fuchsia Dunlop: A German friend and I had heard about this famous cooking school, so we cycled over there one day and managed to persuade them to give us private classes for a month. We worked with a translator because our Chinese was not very good at that stage.

When I finished my studies at Sichuan University, I went back to the cooking school, asking if I could drop in occasionally and watch some demonstrations. Instead, they said, "We have a chef's training course beginning now, why don't you join in?"

It was a real curiosity that this Englishwoman was so interested in their food. I don't think it was strictly according to the rules at the time, because foreigners didn't do this kind of thing.

So it was really the kindness of the teachers and the principal of this school. They just thought, "Well she's interested; let's let her have a go."

At the time in China, everything was changing. There had been all these things that had been closed to foreigners. It was just sheer luck that I was there at that moment.

To read the full story, go to CNN.