EAST MEETS WEST: A group of five Chinese teachers are spending three months training in Mildura at SuniTAFE where they are learning skills to prepare and cook western food including pastry delicacies.

By JOHN DOOLEY

IT was a hive of activity when the Mildura Weekly visited SuniTAFE’s commercial cookery and hospitality centre, where five Chinese teachers from Zhejiang Agricultural Business College are training at the Mildura campus for the next three months.

The visit is an important component of the collaboration between SuniTAFE and the Zhejiang Agricultural Business College, and is the precursor to the Certificate III in Commercial Cookery being taught to students in China.

While in Mildura, the teachers will develop skills in Australian and western food preparation, while also gaining an understanding of the vocational curriculum and what is required when SuniTAFE delivers the Australian qualification in China next year.  

SuniTAFE hopes that this relationship will also form a foundation for further international recruitment of students to come to Mildura to study the Certificate IV Commercial Cookery, the Diploma of Hospitality Management at SuniTAFE and then the Bachelor of Business (Tourism and Hospitality) at La Trobe University.

The Chinese visitors are from Yuecheng District, a county-level region which forms the core of the municipality of Shaoxing, Zhejiang, located near the busy city of Hangzhou – a 45-minute trip by high-speed bullet train from Shanghai – 175kms away.

SuniTAFE co-ordinator for international hospitality, Bradley Fyfe, is in charge of the project, and will travel to China next year to teach at the Zhejiang college. 

“I have the pleasure of hosting the teachers from Zhejiang Agricultural Business College in China, of whom there are three western cookery chefs, and two English interpreters,” Mr Fyfe said.

“I had the opportunity of meeting them in March this year during a visit to China, where SuniTAFE has been in negotiation to go into partnership with them to deliver Australian qualifications in China.

“I’ll be going to China next year to teach the Australian qualification in Zhejiang, and I’m getting the support of the teachers who are here today and are spending three months with SuniTAFE to learn what the Australian qualification is all about.”

Mr Fyfe said the Zhejiang college and the Chinese Government were very keen on the Australian education model. They view it as one of the best standards in the world. 

“The college is encouraged by the Chinese Government to form partnerships and they noticed that we were one of the few Victorian TAFEs that didn’t have one of those registrations, even though we had been open to business in China, and so they approached us,” he said.

“That has given SuniTAFE the opportunity to develop its brand within the Zhejiang college and potentially recruit students to come to Mildura to complete their Certificate IV in Commercial Cooking and their Diploma and Advance Diploma of Hospitality Management.

“We find we are in a good position to recruit and encourage students to come here and support our domestic programs, and this enables us to continue to offer to our local students programs which otherwise we potentially may not have been able to.”

Glenn in charge

SuniTAFE commercial cookery teacher, Glenn Jones, teaches apprentice chefs in Mildura, Swan Hill and Broken Hill, as well as international students in Cert III and IV Commercial Cookery, and he’s training the group from China.   

“I’ve had a fair bit of experience over the past 10 years teaching international students, and these guys already have a good skill-set, which makes my job a little easier,” he said.

“They are, however, finding the work a little challenging, fitting in a lot of practical skills in a short amount of time.

“I believe over in China they have 45-minute practical sessions, whereas here, we have a seven-hour session – so it’s a long time on their feet.”

The use of pastry in dishes is increasing in China with the emergence of the patisserie, and people are becoming more interested in small cakes and danish pastries. This is in part due to the growth in taste for western-style coffee. 

The facilities for cooking training at SuniTAFE are first class, and include two fully operational commercial kitchens, which is where the Chinese teachers were preparing pastry for baking. 

“Kitchen two is designed for more lecture-style training sessions, and the area where the students are doing their pastry baking is the kitchen with marble benches, the baker’s ovens and ‘provers’ and other commercial equipment required to produce bread and pastries,” Mr Jones said.

“The training schedule is divided into classroom theory and practical learning, which accounts for the bulk of their training. It’s pretty much two to one. So there will be two days of practical to one day of theory.

“However, there is a theory component behind every practical unit, and today they are studying pastry cakes and breads, and there is also a written assessment that goes with that to test their underpinning knowledge. There is also an exam for each unit, and each unit makes up the qualification.”

Speaking through his Chinese language interpreter and fellow teacher, Rugang Zeng, Zhejiang College visiting teacher Shenchao Gu said that he and the other members of his group had been enjoying the first month of their training at SuniTAFE.

“We have done everything very successfully in our first month, and in that time, we have learnt a lot about western cookery, and we have another two months of training to go,” Mr Gu said.

“This morning we are making savarin aux fruits, focaccia and Brioche bread and butter pudding, and currently we are preparing all of the ingredients in advance of the baking taking place.”

Mr Gu hasn’t previously done a lot of pastry cooking at his college in China, having specialised in seafood and meat classes and salad preparation, and so being able to learn about pastry and western food cooking skills at SuniTAFE is very important for him.

Mr Gu added that he and his colleagues were enjoying their time in Mildura, and they would be doing some sight-seeing as well during their stay, including a trip to Mungo National Park Station to see the ‘Walls of China’.