UTM grad Wendy Chung discovers global cultures, one kitchen at a time
In the late spring of 2010, Wendy Chung (BCom 2004 UTM) was on a backpacking trip to the Far East. In the walled old town of Dali in southwestern China – under the gaze of the Cangshan mountains, on the banks of Erhai Lake – Chung stayed in a local couple’s hostel and at night, over rice and fish stew, she got to know her hosts and other travellers, swapped stories, shared experiences. “It’s one of those moments you tuck away,” she says, her speech still carrying traces of a childhood in Taiwan. “You file it into memory.”
Two years later, Chung has pulled on her memories and created Culture.licious, a business which offers small (maximum 15 people per session) cooking classes taught by a variety of home cooks and the opportunity to “discover the world, one kitchen at a time.” She’s also drawn on other parts of her life: her father was a tour guide in Asia and Africa and, after completing her studies at U of T, Chung worked as a financial analyst at Maple Leaf Foods and, later, a finance manager at Pepsi.
The same sort of family dinner dynamic Chung remembers from Dali is at play at a Culture.licious former-Yugoslavian cooking class on a Saturday afternoon in mid-October. With the 10 participants and the class instructor, a Bosnian woman named Aleksandra Homesin, Chung acts as an interlocutor, asking questions, guiding the discussion, encouraging the more diffident. “Who taught you how to cook?” she asks Aleksandra ebulliently. “What’s your fondest memory from back home?” And to the novices in the class, she jokes: “No work, no pain, no food! That’s the model!” Everyone’s part of the family; everyone pitches in.
Though Chung says that she’s not entirely sure what the future holds for Culture.licious, she’s enjoying the ride. By the end of the month, she will have hosted more than a half dozen classes and introduced students to the foods, cultures and histories of Panama, the Balkans, South India, Vietnam, and Korea. In November, she will hold her most intriguing class yet – the instructor is Goan by way of Kenya – and she’s on the lookout for someone to teach a lesson on Tibetan cuisine. “It’s a journey, right?” she laughs. “It’s an adventure.”