Zhang Juhua in her kitchen [Women of China English Monthly]
The Chinese Dream belongs to each Chinese person. Women of China (WOC) has been interviewing Chinese women, from various sectors, and sharing their stories of pursuing their dreams. In this edition, WOC interviews Zhang Juhua, owner and head chef of Red Kitchen Cabinet.
Zhang Juhua, a native of Wuhu, a city in East China's Anhui Province, began working as a maid in Beijing in 1997, when she was 17. At that time, she mainly cleaned her employers' house, as she knew little about cooking.
Zhang decided to learn how to cook in 2004, after she began working for Philippa Kelly, a British-Australian woman who had lived in China for 30 years. However, Kelly didn't like the food cooked by Zhang. To avoid losing her job, Zhang resolved to learn how to cook authentic Western dishes.
She read many online blogs, on which recipes and pictures of Western dishes were posted. As Zhang couldn't understand English, she asked Kelly to translate the recipes. Kelly also gave Zhang several books and magazines about food and cooking, and such materials helped Zhang learn about Western food and the relevant English words in the recipes.
Zhang's cooking skills improved quickly. Kelly was satisfied with her food, and she recommended Zhang to her friends when they needed someone to prepare food for their parties.
"Many of the foreigners who ate the food I cooked said the flavor … was excellent, and that the food tasted exactly the same as that in their hometowns. Some … were surprised when I told them that I never attended a cooking school. Maybe I am destined to become a chef," says Zhang.
One day, in 2010, Kelly and Zhang visited one of Kelly's friends. Zhang was fascinated by the cakes prepared by the host. "The cakes looked attractive, and they were delicious. I could hardly wait to learn how to make them," Zhang recalls. She was soon able to make several kinds of cakes. She then started to sell homemade cakes online.
Due to her lack of business experience, however, Zhang failed to manage the online business. Kelly suggested Zhang develop more products and then transform her business into a customized catering service. She also allowed Zhang to use her kitchen.
In 2013, Zhang started her new business, and she based it in Kelly's kitchen. Because most of the furniture and decorations in the kitchen were red, Zhang named her business Red Kitchen Cabinet.
"At the beginning, I needed to cook and deal with all the trifles by myself. When the orders increased, I had no time to sleep. I often felt exhausted. But I love being a chef. I don't want to give up … The happiest thing for me is that the customers like my food," Zhang says.
Now, Zhang and her partners offer catering services — high-quality food and beverages — for a variety of events, from small dinner parties to banquets hosted by companies or embassies. Some of the functions are attended by hundreds of people.
Zhang has always used organic ingredients, and she has done her best to retain the nutrients and original flavors of those ingredients.
Zhang says one must be diligent and determined if he/she finds the thing that he/she really likes to do. "To make a lot of money is not my goal. I hope more people will have the chance to eat my food, which is tasty and healthy," she says.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly May 2016 Issue)
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