Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sharing Art: Chef Poon's Culinary Preceptorial

Each semester, I set myself the obligation to register for preceptorials. Usually, though, when I check out the listings, the "obligation" part disappears, leaving only the uncontrollable desire to register for at least ten. Then, I spend a month and a half crossing my fingers in hope and anticipation.

And this semester, I hit the culinary jackpot of preceptorials: Chef Poon's Asian Culinary Institute!

For those of you not familiar, Joseph Poon is an incredibly versatile public figure. More than 30 years ago, he arrived in Philadelphia with $8 in his pocket. Now, after starting the successful restaurants Sang Kee, Joe's Peking Duck House and Joseph Poon Asian Fusion, Master Chef Joseph Poon is busier than ever. He conducts Wok 'N' Walk tours of Philadelphia Chinatown, teaches cooking classes, and leads trips to China. His desire to pass down his art to talented, eager followers has led him to participate in numerous philanthropic events each year.

You could easily call his Penn preceptorial a philanthropic event, too - Chef Poon gave himself away completely. At the first session, more than fifty students crowded into the Bodek Lounge in Houston Hall to observe his mind-blowing cooking skills. He proved a master of multitasking: boiling, frying, and sauteeing simultaneously, while cheerfully cleaving away at a fresh chicken. A mere hour and a half of Chef Poon's magic transformed a single bird into eleven different dishes, from chicken burger to General Tso's chicken.

All the while, he was telling us his life story, marked by struggle, disappointment, and obstinate perseverance. Met with unresponsive chefs, he learned a great portion of his art all by himself, and has largely relied on his own devices for support. He self-funded his university education, and also a four-month intensive course at the Culinary Institute of America. Now, he is constantly sharing his experience with the community, having realized the transience of life after a successful battle with cancer.

"Never stop being creative," he said at the second preceptorial session, where he demonstrated his superb fruit and vegetable carving skills to the amazement of all students. Under his carefully controlled knife, slices of watermelon turned into dinosaurs and dragons; leeks, turnips and beets into flowers, and pineapple slices into bunnies. A student on each side, Chef Poon gave crash courses in carving, all the while insisting on minimal waste. Watermelon rind is trash to us; it's art in waiting for him.

Both preceptorials were accompanied by tasty giveaways, generously supplied by Chef Poon himself. Since his goal in the sessions is to teach students something new, he asked follow-up questions afterwards, rewarding right answers with his recently published cookbook - Life is Short...Cooking is Fun.

It looks like Chef Poon perfectly knows how to enjoy life and the art of cooking. During the sessions, his vigorous speech was flowing freely, peppered with jokes and anecdotes. He shared multiple life stories with us; at the end, he gave all his edible sculptures away for students to take home. Joseph Poon is not simply a master of cooking - he is also a master of sharing.


  1. You have captured Chef Poon's spirit and life philosophy. So happy that the students are enjoying his presentations. He is a treasure of the city! We are fortunate to have him here.

  2. cool guy. cool story.

    the sangkee out in wynnewood is great



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