The world's first Confucius Culinary Institute is scheduled to open at UC Davis this fall, revealing the magic and mystery of Chinese cuisine dating back 2,500 years.
UC Davis food science alumnus Martin Yan, restaurateur and longtime host of "Yan Can Cook," will advise the program, one of hundreds of Chinese language and cultural programs China has helped start in the United States.
"We'll use cuisine and culinary arts to promote better understanding of Chinese and American culture and history," Yan said. "A lot of people don't realize Confucius spent much of his life developing dietary guidelines and teaching how the way food's served and prepared applies to the social order."
Confucius, born in 551 B.C., was a scholar who influenced the use of chopsticks and encouraged devotion to elders and learning. His philosophy has influenced Asian culture ever since. But during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, the communist government discredited his teachings and anyone thought to be among China's elites or intelligentsia, including piano teachers, poets and professors.
Confucius has made a comeback worldwide through the Confucius Institute, an agency funded by the Chinese government that has established 75 Confucius Institutes at universities in the United States and more than 550 Confucius K-12 classrooms.
"It's China's effort to exercise soft diplomacy," said Peter Hershock, an education specialist at the East West Center, a U.S. think tank.
The Culinary Institute was proposed by Bill Lacy, vice provost for University Outreach & International Programs. UC Davis, known for its wine and food science programs and the Robert Mondavi Food and Wine Institute, already has a fruitful exchange program with Jiangnan University, one of China's top food and beverage schools, Lacy said.
Confucius was born in Shandong, China, an area famous for "Lu" style cuisine, including steamed dumplings, long noodles and large round steamed breads. Yan plans to host Confucian-style banquets featuring sea cucumbers, fish, shrimp and abalone -- delicacies Confucius probably ate in moderation.
Confucius used food to teach balance and harmony, Yan said, "He was a gourmet, a food and rice wine connoisseur who said we have to respect nature by eating everything fresh."
Along with classes on the psychology and anthropology of Chinese cuisine, students will see demonstration by Confucius culinary masters from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada and the U.S. Some food and wine events will likely be open to the public, Yan said, so anyone can learn how Chinese food, life and society are intertwined.