Crayfish has become a popular food in China. Photo: IC
Usually served spicy with a cold beer on hot summer nights in China, crayfish has now jumped from dining tables to classrooms.
A vocational college in central China’s Hubei Province has enrolled students in in a crayfish major which will see them receiving official certificates after graduation. The aim of the program is to produce more cooks and managers for the booming crayfish industry.
The first group of 86 students will begin two to three years of study at the crayfish school in the autumn. The school is affiliated with the Jianghan Art Vocational College in Qianjiang City.
Each student was given a choice of three majors: crayfish cooking and nutrition, catering management, and marketing. They are expected to work in major crayfish restaurants or start their own businesses after they graduate.
Established in March, the school’s predecessor was a private training center set up in August 2015. Its short courses have already taught more than 1,580 people how to raise and cook crayfish, but they did not receive official diplomas.
Xia Zhongzhi, the director of Jianghan Art Vocational College’s recruitment department, told The Beijing News on July 20 that the crayfish cooks and breeders were trained one-on-one.
“Old cooks taught young cooks, and some private cooking schools were also popular,” he said. “[People with] crayfish skills are in urgent need in China, and we saw the necessity of making it a major in an art vocational college.”
Yang Junfeng, 30, was one of the first students to enroll at the Jianghan Art Vocational College. In a classroom, he raised the burner heat to high and stir-fried crayfish with soy sauce, minced garlic, star anise and Myrcia in a wok.
The experienced cook has mastered the preparation of more than 10 dishes, including braised, steamed and garlic crayfish, after a weeklong training program.
Yang runs a small fish restaurant in his hometown of Jingmen City on the Jianghan Plain, a major producer of rice, cotton, fish and shrimp.
With fertile land and a large network of rivers and lakes, the plain is an ideal habitat for crayfish.
Native to North America, the species was brought to east China’s Jiangsu Province by a Japanese merchant in the 1920s or 1930s. They appeared in the plain about 30 years ago, and villagers found the shellfish tasty and turned them into a big business.
“Every household in my hometown can make fish dishes. So, you’d better have something new for customers,” said Yang, the owner and cook at an eatery.
In 2010, braised crayfish took Jingmen by storm, becoming even more popular than fish. Every night, crayfish restaurants were brightly lit and crowded with a sea of foodies, Yang said.
“People even waited for two hours just for a seat in those snack shops,” Yang said. “A braised crayfish dish that cost 20 yuan ($3) to make could be sold for 138 yuan. How profitable the market is!”
A promising career
Xia said the Jianghan Art Vocational College is the first in China to create a major targeting the crayfish industry. He said that the students would also have classes including English, computer and business management in addition to learning crayfish related subjects. The students will also be given a job offer right after enrollment.
According to a report released by the Ministry of Agriculture in June, Chinese consumption of crayfish has jumped by about 33 percent to 879,300 tons a year over the past two years. Annual output reached 899,100 tons in 2016, making China the world’s largest producer of crayfish, accounting for over 70 percent of the world’s total. Raising and processing crayfish and related service industries provided nearly 5 million jobs in the country.
The nationwide craze has boosted the crayfish cooking profession. According to Yang, most crayfish chefs come from Qianjiang City.
“They can earn a monthly salary of up to 30,000 yuan,” he said.
Zhang Guo’an, chairman of the crayfish school, said fostering more talent for the profitable industry is an urgent task.
He revealed that the crayfish school plans to train 10,000 cooks and another 10,000 to raise crayfish. It will also help graduates open 1,000 Qianjiang crayfish chain stores across the country in the next five years.
Chu Chaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said in the Beijing News report that colleges and universities in China are increasingly flexible in creating new majors, which is a good thing. However, he said there are concerns about whether the major is needed and how the college will ensure the quality of instruction. He suggested that the college strictly evaluate the new major on the quality of teaching, the academic achievement of the students and whether the graduates get good job offers over several years.
Xia said the college’s crayfish major welcomes students from all over the country and is optimistic about the major’s future.
“Crayfish cooking is not the only thing of the major [teaches]. The students are also supposed to learn other cooking skills which can ensure that they get a job after graduation,” he said.
“The concerns are a little bit unnecessary because even our part-time crayfish training sessions were well received, and all the students found a job with a monthly income of over 8,000 yuan.”
After Yang returns home, he plans to overhaul his snack shop and make crayfish its signature dish.
“I learned a lot at the school. If you don’t have something special, you will be kicked out of the market,” he said.
Source: Global Times