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A British chef in China and his kitchen classroom

Editor: zhenglimin 丨Xinhua

07-07-2016 16:55 BJT

At a small restaurant in a Beijing hutong, a young British man is teaching the Chinese how to cook.

Jamie Bilbow opened Rice Kitchen three years ago and began his journey in teaching Western cuisine to Chinese people.

The British chef calls himself "Dami," which means rice in Chinese and sounds similar to "Jamie."

Born in England, Bilbow moved to Hong Kong with his parents at the age of one. He lived in the city almost 18 years and developed an interest in cooking and Chinese culture.

After studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London, he came to Beijing in 2011 to pursue his goals: learning to cook Chinese food and becoming a chef in China.

Wheeling his souped-up tricycle that serves as a mobile snack stand, Jamie sets off for business from his residence near Shichahai, a historic scenic area in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 7, 2011. (Xinhua/Liu Jinhai)

Wheeling his souped-up tricycle that serves as a mobile snack stand, Jamie sets off for business from his residence near Shichahai, a historic scenic area in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 7, 2011. (Xinhua/Liu Jinhai)

To the surprise of many, "Dami" started his cooking career in Beijing as a street vendor. Wearing a baggy green coat, the Briton rode a tricycle that said "Rice Kitchen," wheeling through hutongs in the capital and hawking his Middle Eastern-inspired pita and hummus in fluent Mandarin.

Wherever he went, his mobile kitchen always drew crowds. But his street presence also attracted the attention of "chengguan," or urban management officers, who always persuaded him to leave.

After hearing complaints from some customers who missed his food cart, he decided to settle down in a permanent location. In 2012, he rented a warehouse from a friend and rebuilt it into a restaurant in a hutong near the Drum Tower in central Beijing.

He painted a traditional Chinese saying on the restaurant's wall: "Food is the paramount necessity of people." But he soon found that locals rarely frequented the unassuming place. Customers were few and far between.

A favorable turn came when a bilingual school headmaster invited him to teach Chinese parents how to cook Western food. Perhaps influenced by his father, a university professor, Bilbow was good at teaching.

He found that the surging popularity of his cooking classes reflected the cosmopolitan tastes of China's growing middle class, who like to include foreign cuisine and Western cooking styles in their diets.

The success of the lessons inspired him to transform his restaurant into a classroom.

He posts information for his twice-a-week class on microblog site Weibo, including recipes for pasta, avocado salad and steak. The account has attracted tens of thousands of followers so far and hundreds of students, especially young parents and white-collar workers.

He has also created new dishes that combine Chinese flavors and Western styles. "That is my hobby. I love to study Chinese food and I like to make dishes with both Chinese and Western elements," he said in Chinese.

In 2014, he hosted a TV episode that allowed him to travel to remote southwest China's Yunnan Province to discover and introduce audiences to the local food.

Not satisfied with just the classroom, he authored a recipe book in Chinese that is available at all large bookstores and online shops in China.

"My biggest dream is to teach more Chinese people how to cook Western food at home," he said in the book.

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