University canteen master can thread a potato through the eye of a needle
Feng Zuowen sliced the potato effortlessly into thin strips and threaded the strips though the eye of a needle to show how thin they are.
The incredible skill has made him a star at Jilin University, where he has worked in the canteen for several decades. It also draws hundreds of students to line up in the kitchen to taste Feng’s stir-fired potatoes.
“It’s an unbelievable stunt. We are pretty interested,” said Chen Yuxi, a first-year postgraduate at the technical and economic management school of the university. “I have been studying here for five years and always want to try more of Feng’s dishes. The stir-fried potatoes are quite crispy and sticky.”
In 2017, a canteen WeChat group was formed to show dishes made by different chefs. Feng’s dishes are popular and always got the most comments.
Feng, 61, has been cooking since 1978. The canteen work was his first job, and it turned into a lifetime. In 1998, he got a chance to learn cooking techniques at the Nanhu Hotel, a luxury hotel in Changchun, Jilin province.
“I studied for three months there,” he recalled. “I started practicing cutting cabbage strips, and when I was able to do that easily, I practiced with potatoes.”
Feng has witnessed many changes at Jilin University, which has developed into the largest university in Northeast China in terms of total campus area.
Feng said that in the 1970s the canteen was old and shabby. “There were only round tables and students could hardly sit and eat.”
“We only cooked one dish a day due to lack of food supplies,” he said. “Potatoes and Chinese cabbage were the main ingredients that were provided on a regular basis.”
Stir-fried dishes appeared in the 1980s, Feng recalled, and various kinds of rice products gave students more choices — for example, steamed bread, bean buns, flaky pastry and cakes.
“Prices for the meals have risen from 6 yuan ($0.87) a month 40 years ago to the current 400 or 500 yuan,” Feng added.
More electronic devices have joined the array of kitchen equipment.
Although he reached retirement age in 2017, Feng continues to work at the canteen, applying his excellent skills. He is on duty at 6 am every morning and gets off work at 6 pm with only two days off per month.
“I hope students can feel warmed when eating dishes at the canteen. I want to give them the taste of home,” Feng said.
Feng Zuowen DING LUYANG