Arts & Culture

At the table with Feng Ai Ding

Yan’s Cuisine chef discusses family traditions, healthy eats, cultural benefits of food

Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2014

Since its opening in September, Yan’s Cuisine has become College Hill’s spot for authentic Chinese food. The swarms of students at Yan’s are a testament to the restaurant’s diverse flavors, convenient Benevolent Street location and reasonable prices.

The chef responsible for the popular cuisine is Feng Ai Ding, but she calls herself Sister Ai — a practice common in Chinese culture, in which the terms sister and brother are used as part of nicknames. She is from Guangdong, a major food province in China and the home of the almighty dim sum. Sister Ai came to Yan’s Cuisine motivated to fill the stomachs of diligent college students with exquisite foods and delicate desserts. She recently sat down with The Herald to talk about her lifelong passion for cooking and the gratification she takes from making people happy with her food.

The Herald: What’s your earliest memory in the kitchen?
Ai: When I was little, my grandmother would teach me how to cook, including ancient Chinese methods of cooking. My mom is a doctor, so she’s pretty busy — it’s mostly my grandmother who taught me all the cooking. I started cooking when I was eight, helping out the grown-ups.

What was your go-to college food or meal?
My favorite was fish. It’s healthy to eat, and I think it makes you smart.

What’s your favorite thing to cook and why?
My favorite kinds are dishes with steamed vegetables with meat soups. They take a long time, but I think they are delicious.

What’s your “spirit food”?
When I was in mainland China, I loved fresh and organic vegetables from the farms. We try to make our food fresh and organic as well.

What do you think makes Providence a good food city?
Well, people here just like to eat, and they want better and better food. I think in terms of freshness of food, Providence also wins over other bigger cities.

How would you describe your food philosophy?
I would think everyday how to make my food better. I don’t want people to get tired of the food on our menu if they come everyday, so I’m always trying to figure out how to make my food more delicious, more innovative. To make the customer happy and healthy with my food gives me satisfaction.

How does food fit into a larger conversation about culture?
Well, if a lot of people come to cities and visit, they care about the food there. Good food in a city promotes the city and promotes its culture. You can’t do anything without food.

This interview was translated from Mandarin by Zack Bu and has been edited for clarity.

Recipe: Salty Dumplings

About the recipe:
This improvisational salty dumpling recipe was passed down from Feng Ai Ding’s grandmother, though the chef has made changes to improve the flavors.

Dried mushrooms

Make the flour into little round wrappings. Dice the shrimp, scallions and dried mushrooms and mix them into stuffing. Put the stuffing into the flour wraps to make them into dumplings.


To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

  1. Is this article serious? That’s not even a recipe

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at