Cecilia Au-Yang wrote the book on regional Chinese cuisine. In fact, she’s written 40 books on the subject. Since 1971, she has also been the force behind Chopsticks Cooking Centre, a powerhouse of a school for locals and tourists that she now limits to individual sessions. Recently, I was lucky enough to receive her undivided attention and guidance. When I asked if we could tour the market, off we went, slowly strolling from stand to stand as butchers and farmers called out to her in Cantonese. As I marveled at all the different grades of dried scallops, shark’s fin, and bamboo fungus, she said, “You must learn the proper way to cook dried mushrooms tomorrow.” And I did, while also focusing on a different regional cuisine over each of the next five days, including two devoted to dim sum. Cecilia told me a proper dumpling must have a minimum of 12 pleats. Mine had maybe six. At the very end of the course, Cecilia offered me the option of coming back the next morning for a final lesson. When the Julia Child of Hong Kong offers you a practicum, you don’t turn her down. The next morning’s class went well, which is to say I totally screwed up, but Cecilia was waiting for me at every wrong turn. As I left the school, I felt great: My dumplings now have seven pleats. (011-852-2336-8433; $2,500 for five days at the intermediate level, with some meals)
What I Learned
When it comes to sauces, it’s all about balance. Soy never stands alone but becomes part of a greater whole with sugar, oyster sauce, vinegar, and often much more.
When made correctly, Chinese cuisine has such deep, rich flavors that it does not need MSG.
Before You Go
You don’t want to study with Cecilia if you have no knowledge of Chinese cooking. On the other hand, don’t be intimidated by your level of skill. She will adjust to the needs of all serious students.
Where to Stay
Langham Place (011-852-3552-3388; langhamplacehotels.com; from $260). An ultra-modern hotel and spa on the Kowloon side of the harbor and just a ten-minute walk from the school.