Travelers on recent trips to China may have enjoyed a few culinary highlights on their visits, but it has taken Florence Lin to search out the master chefs there and to arrange for Americans to learn and taste this great cuisine in a thoroughly professional program.
Born and raised in China, and for 25 years head of Chinese cooking at the China Institute in America, Mrs. Lin will lead a series of tours to the capital cities in the four culinary regions - Beijing (Peking), Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shanghai - starting in late August, September, and November.
Recent visitors to China, looking for the best, the most authentic, Chinese food in the world, have often returned asking questions about the food and the renowned master chefs.
Where are they today? Did they go to Taiwan or to the Chinese restaurants of the United States or Hong Kong? Or are they perhaps still in China, but doing other kinds of work?
Mrs. Lin has the answers.
''There are still great chefs in Ahina,'' she says, ''but, yes, it is difficult for the American tourist to find them.
''On my first trip back to China in 1978, it seemed that in order to have really good food there and good service, you had to be 'somebody.'
''The best chefs were assigned to strategic hotels and restaurants, and the food in a hotel for Americans was better prepared than food in the hotels for overseas Chinese.''
So it is important to know the names of the good chefs and to know where they are; and rs. Lin, with her expert knowledge of Chinese cuisine and her fluency in the language, has done this research on several recent trips.
During the l4 days in China on this year's tours, there will be 10 lessons from master chefs of the four great regional cuisines: imperial, Sichuan, Cantonese, and Shanghai.
Each two-hour class will be followed by a sampling meal of the regional dishes demonstrated. Five special banquets in the finest restaurants of China will include special dishes of each of the four cuisines.
Peking, the political and cultural heart of China, is also the center of imperial style food.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province is noted for its hot, spicy dishes.
Guangzhou (Canton), the capital of Guajgdong Province, is famous for its subtle, complex Cantonese cooking.
Shanghai, China's most cosmopolitan city, is the home of the famous ''red'' cooking.
At each of the four cities there will be a grand welcome banquet, hosted by the master chefs of the reeion, as well as two or three cooking classes with demonstrations and sampling meals.
Each tour includes trips to: the National Chef's School in Shanghai, a confectionary and baking factory, and a colorful local market, as well as a peasant lunch at a commune and several small workers' restaurants. Time is planned for sightseeing, shopping, and entertainment.
Accommodations will be at small state guest houses, for the most part, and in better hotels.
The program has been arranged by the Beijing Friendship Service Corporation, an arm of the Chinese government that represents China's major restaurants, food services, and hotels. This is the first time the corporation has arranged a program for foreign visitors to China.
There are three tours: August 30 to September 15, September 27 to October 3, and November 8 to November 24. Limited to 16 people, each trip will be personally supervised and directed by Mrs. Lin.
A native of Ningbo, Mrs. Lin speaks fluent Mandarin. In addition to her consultations with the master chefs in planning the teaching sessions, she will provide her own cooking expertise on each of the trips.
Mrs. Lin was principal consultant for Time-Life's ''Cgoking of China'' in the Foods of the World series, and she has written four Chinese cookbooks: ''Florenbe Lin's Chinese Regional Cookbook, ''Florence Lin's Vegetarian Cookbook ,'' Florence Lin's One-Dish Meal Cookbook,'' and Florence Lin's Cooking With Fire Pot'' - all published by Hawthorn Books, E. P. Dutton.
Each tour will have an American travel escort, and throughout China there will be four, full-time professional interpreters familiar with the food sessions.
Executive director of the program is Arlene Posner of China Liason Inc., an affiliate of A. J. de Keijzer Associates, the consulting firm that arranged the program.
Cost of $3,995 includes the culinary program, exclusive of international airfare. It includes all banquets and meals; first-class hotel accomodations, transportation, and sightseeing within China; and other special features.
For information and reservations, contact Arlene Posner, China Liason Inc., 15 West 68th Street, New York City, N.Y. 10023, telephone (212) 496-7802.