Riding on Taiwan’s growing international reputation as a haven for foodies, CookInn Taiwan, a new private school, instructs tourists how to cook Taiwanese cuisine like a chef.
This comes as Michelin, the French food guide publication and tire company, last year recognized Taiwan’s culinary attractions for the first time and introduced the likes of beef noodles, xiaolongbao dumplings and tea eggs to the world. Anthony Bourdain, the American celebrity chef, also drew international attention to Taiwanese cuisine when he visited the nation before his death last year.
“Instead of eating Taiwanese food at restaurants, CookInn Taiwan offers professional courses so that travellers can learn how to cook the Taiwanese food they prefer,” said Chelsea Tsai, the CEO and founder of CookInn Taiwan.
Tsai noted that cooking is an activity that can be done at any time and in any place.
"So travellers can recall the taste of Taiwan once they are back in their own countries,” Tsai said.
CookInn Taiwan is more than merely a “culinary classroom,” says CEO
Before founding CookInn Taiwan, Tsai worked for marketing department with Hewlett Packard .
Despite working for a technology giant, Tsai felt no interest in electronic gadgets and discovered her real passion was for cooking.
“I even went to Le Cordon Bleu to enhance my professional knowledge,” Tsai said.
Inspired by cooking courses offered in South Korea and Thailand as part of travel packages for tourists, Tsai promised herself she would establish a similar course in Taipei and teach travellers how to cook authentic Taiwanese cuisine.
“Many people say Taiwan is a food paradise so I wanted to make use of this to attract tourists to come to Taiwan,” Tsai said.
“CookInn Taiwan does not only to teach tourists 'how to cook’ but also takes them to traditional markets to see (fresh produce),” Tsai said.
“We show them the kinds of materials we are going to cook later. I think it’s very important to show them how the locals live and going to traditional markets is one way to do this.”
Each cooking course costs US$81 (NT$2,500) and Tsai says the majority of participants are from Asian region such as Korea and Japan, although a handful have come from other regions such as Europe, Australia and the U.S.
“For me, my most proud moments are seeing travellers learning how to cook,” Tsai said.
“When they tell me: ‘This class made my journey to Taiwan perfect,’ it absolutely blows my mind.”
Tsai says this kind of encouragement from travellers inspires her to continue with her venture.
“We don’t just teach them about cooking, we make friends with them. It’s more than just a ‘culinary classroom,’,it’s a place to make memories for them and for us as well.” Tsai said.
Tsai’s challenges and hopes
According to Tsai, there are at least six to eight similar courses in Taiwan’s capital.
Instead of regarding them as competitors, Tsai urges the government to establish a platform that can package these courses together to boost Taiwan’s tourism.
The main challenge for Tsai is attracting even more foreign travellers to attend her “culinary classroom” when they visit Taiwan. Tsai expressed hopes that relevant government ministries and departments could help promote these kinds of ventures.
Tsai’s current marketing strategies involve Google marketing tools and cooperation with online travel platforms such as KLOOK, and Tripadvisor.
“In fact, the best marketing comes from those travellers who post pictures on social media such as Instagram or Facebook,” Tsai said.
“Their posts are reliable sources for family and friends.
“One Japanese traveller joined the course because she saw the photos of her friend cooking at CookInn, which inspired her to come to CookInn Taiwan in order to learn about authentic (local)food while travelling in Taiwan.”