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Home-style Cooking Gets Whole New Meaning

updated: 2011-08-01

China Daily, August 1, 2011   
Several men in aprons are cooking in the kitchen - two washing vegetables, one cutting meat, and two scrambling eggs and making soup. It's a common scene at Huijia Creative Kitchen Bar in Taiyuan, a city in North China's Shanxi province. You might think they're the kitchen staff, but you would be wrong: they're the customers.
The kitchen bar has no menus, chefs or waitstaff. Customers bring the ingredients, cook for themselves and wash the dishes after. And they pay 30 yuan ($ 4.66) apiece for the privilege.
"I just want to make people feel at home here - huijia means 'come home' in Chinese," the restaurant's owner Gao Lizhu, 28, said recently.
The restaurant has a 50-sq-m dining room, 20-sq-m open kitchen, cooking utensils and tableware. There are condiments and sauces for free and soft drinks, beer, red wine, rice and flour for a price. Eight people at a time can cook, while others relax in the dining room and watch TV, play poker, board games or mahjong.
Gao got the idea for the restaurant as an economics student in Peking University. Dissatisfied with the food in the university canteen, she and some classmates proposed the idea as a group project. "It got a high mark," she said. "When I had my son last year and quit my job in February, I thought it's time to put it into practice.”
After graduating in 2006, she worked at different jobs in Beijing and Hangzhou, but she returned to her hometown Taiyuan two years later.
"When I worked in other cities, I ate out most of the time because my kitchen was small," she said, adding that she didn't enjoy it. It turns out other people have had the same experience. "I'm tired of eating out. Cooking gives me a sense of accomplishment," said Yao Di, 18, who will have a gathering of about 20 people at the restaurant. Some people like group cooking. "I feel relaxed and have fun with friends here. I'm glad that they love my cooking," said Gao Wei, 45. Besides, recent food scandals - the bad cooking oil and unhealthy food additives - are driving people back to kitchen.
The restaurant owner, Gao, said the kitchen is "a perfect place" for a date, especially for those planning to get married. After marriage, the kitchen becomes an important part of  their life.

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