What do laid-off workers and bored housewives have in common? Lots of time. That is why people from both groups have been signing up for cookery classes at the Guangzhou Tourist Institute. The institute, which is also a vocational school for teenagers, has been teaching adults the art of cooking for several years now, and has gained a reputation as one of the city's top culinary schools. For 1,500 yuan, students can learn the basics of gourmet Chinese cooking in just eight weeks. 'Everyone needs to eat, but eating well is a different matter,' says Tan Bingqiang, a training director at the school, who has been teaching cookery classes for 30 years. The courses cover the whole gambit of Chinese cuisine, from Cantonese food and Sichuan dishes, to northeastern fare. Western cookery classes are also available. 'People who attend these classes are very interested in learning,' says Lie Haoquan, one of the teachers in the programme who has worked as a chef for the Chinese embassy in Cambodia. 'Every class, students have to make the same dishes that we do. We teach them the fundamentals of cooking.' While most students are local Chinese, a growing number of foreign students have been joining, including Japanese, South Korean, Philippine and Indonesian chefs-to-be. All classes are taught in Putonghua. The classes, which run during the day and in the evening, also cover nutrition, sanitation and restaurant management. Most of the student body is made up of people who have lost their job, housewives or restaurant cooks who want to sharpen their skills. The classes have not only helped people kill time, but have also given new skills to people looking for better career opportunities. While the skills might not exactly be hi-tech, they do offer an important stepping stone for some people who have reached or are approaching middle age but cannot afford to go back to school full time. 'I wanted to learn another skill that can give me more opportunities in the future,' said Guangzhou native He Yingjie, 44, who quit his government job recently. 'The tuition is a small investment compared to the benefits you get in return.' Cooking is one of Guangzhou's key trademarks, and classes like these are a great way to showcase the city's history and talent. The number of food-related magazines and TV shows that have sprouted up in the past few years are testimony to the fact that the city is investing more in promoting its image as a cooking Mecca. And it is certainly good that these skills can be shared with the general public.