NANJING, China, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- Maria Ifteni from Romania looked down at the cutting board in front of her, grabbed a knife in her right hand and began to slice and dice a selection of vegetables in a culture program at the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.
Ifteni then dumped the vegetables into a shallow frying pan and listened intently as head chef Shi Cal listed the spices to be added to the mix to make a vegetable curry.
"Coriander?" Ifteni, who is a middle distance runner, said as she searched the plate in front of her. "Where is that?"
She found it and gently sprinkled it into the pan along with curry powder, chili powder and a few other ingredients. She stirred the simmering dish and minutes later dinner was served.
Ifteni was one of two-dozen athletes taking part in the healthy cooking class, which is part of the Culture and Education Program (CEP) at the Nanjing Games
"You learn how to cook healthy meals and what is good to eat," the 17-year-old girl said. "I had a lot of fun today."
The purpose of the cooking workshops is to not only teach athletes how to prepare healthy meals, but to give them the practical skills so they can do it at home.
The program has been a huge success. There are two workshops daily and the athletes start lining up about an hour before to don their cooking aprons and chef hats.
Organisers have a seven-day menu, with themes including Chinese cooking, Thai cooking and a pasta-based Mediterranean style meal.
Before they start preparing their food, the aspiring chefs listen to what nutritionist Jenna Ballam of New Zealand has to say about healthy eating. She talks them through why they are making what they are making and why it is important as an athlete to follow a balanced diet, not only for their growth but also the performance in their chosen sport.
"I am hoping that this is doing what it is supposed to be doing and giving them a bit more background and knowledge," Ballam said. "I think the good thing about that is it shows healthy, nutritious food does not have to taste bad.
"I like getting questions when they ask how should I eat to compete, what should I be having and what should I eat during my event. It is good to see they are interested and looking for more knowledge."
The athletes are getting lessons from one of the top chefs in the world. Shi won the gold medal in what is basically the Olympic cook-off for chefs in 2003. He now owns two restaurants in Sydney, Australia.
"I want to show them that healthy cooking is easy," he said. "There is so much fast food available and it is convenient. But it is much better to eat healthy."
One of the other participants in the vegetable curry workshop was Heather Moyse from Canada, a two-time Olympic gold medallist who is at the Games as a role model.
"I think it is amazing they are being exposed to the different benefits of things," she said. "I think people are falsely afraid of carbs, they do not realize that carbs give you energy.
"The same thing is the word calories, which has had a real negative connotation over the years, but calories is just a scientific word for energy. I think that dispelling a bunch of myths over what you can eat and what is healthy and can improve your body is important."
As Ifteni finished her meal and headed out to begin final preparations for her races, she shared what she liked most from the healthy cooking workshop.
"I really liked the dessert," she said of the combination of rice pudding and bananas.