BLUE HILL — When Lusheng Li, aka “Chef Lu,” first started cooking at George Stevens Academy in 2012, it was like a match made in heaven.
She comes from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong (once known as Canton) and cooks cuisines from around East Asia. GSA happens to have a relatively large population of international students, many from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and other Asian countries.
Now, every Wednesday, GSA students heading to lunch can expect Asian dishes on the menu.
At a recent meal, they were treated to vegetable lo mein, garlic string beans and “Chef Lu’s honey chicken.” Other Wednesdays, the menu has featured stir-fried beef-and-broccoli, garlic bok choy, cashew chicken and steamed and fried rice.
Chopsticks are available at each of those “Asian Wednesday” meals, but Wenhao Zhang, a junior from Beijing spending his first year at GSA, was digging into his honey chicken and string beans with a fork.
“I got more used to this,” he said of his adjustment to silverware over the last year, cracking a smile. “This is more fun.”
Such a statement hints at the jumble of cultures, values and experiences any international student can be exposed to in the United States. Students such as Zhang come here as much for a Western education as a chance to see something they wouldn’t by staying in their home countries.
Still, Zhang said, it’s nice having Chinese food on the menu from time to time.
China is a large country, of course, and the food in Beijing is very different from the food in Guangdong.
Cantonese food includes lots of seafood, according to Li, and she has adapted some of her own recipes to what’s available on the coast of Maine: cod, scallops, shrimp and squid. She has also learned to cook dishes from Beijing, Sichuan and other parts of China, as well as from countries bordering China, where some GSA students come from.
Many of the international students board at GSA, so in addition to lunch, the school must also provide breakfast, dinner and snacks, and Li mentioned the rice porridge known as congee as one of the breakfasts she prepares for them.
With GSA students coming from a range of other countries, Frank Bianco, the school’s director of food services, said he tries to incorporate many different cuisines throughout the year, including at least one meal from each country represented at the school.
The current student body also includes students from Turkey, Russia, Jamaica and Italy, so dishes from those countries are served too.
“I always like to see what their likes and dislikes are,” Bianco said of deciding what to serve.
Bianco, who also runs a local catering business, brought Li on after meeting her through Jean Hylan of Brooklin, a GSA parent who had taken cooking classes with Li.
Getting and growing Chinese cooking ingredients can be difficult in northern Maine, Li said, so Bianco often will pick them up when he makes supply trips to Boston.
In addition to cooking for students, Li also passes her own talents on to a small group of students who are involved with the school’s young culinary arts program, which began three years ago.