Tonight I went to a cooking class at The Essential Ingredient.
I came across the class, called “Mingle if you’re single”, when I started following them on Twitter and thought it could be fun. I had no expectations about meeting the man of my dreams, staring into his eyes over a steaming hot pan, feeding each other morsels of food fresh from the oven, but I thought it could be a laugh. And I never need an excuse to cook.
Not surprisingly (I know plenty of men who love to cook, but would never imagine any of them to go to a cooking class), of the eight of us in attendance, there was only one man! One versus seven is pretty good odds for him! Still, having Chef Tom Kime as our teacher evened out the ratio a little!
So, after a quick run through basic kitchen safety, we got stuck in. The first lesson was knife skills and Tom deftly chopped a shallot, showing how to avoid chopping off our fingers, whilst still getting a fine slice. Sure sure, I’ve seen it all before, and though I really tried to slice my chillis with fingers like a claw and a seamless rocking motion with the knife, inevitably I ended up chopping the way I always chop. But the chillis were fine, wit no finger tips in sight, I’m happy to say.
So what did we cook? First up we had Caramelised Scallops with Coriander & Cashew Nut Chutney and then some Hanoi Prawn Cakes. The chutney for the scallops was absolutely delicious and could easily be used alongside other seafood or even chicken, though I had to contain my urges to scream “Give it a good pounding!” to the dainty woman who used the pestle and mortar as if it were egg whites she was folding. Perhaps I had some pent up anger from the hour I’d spent in traffic… The prawn cakes were sweet and crispy served with a spicy sauce and lots of fresh herbs.
Next up we had Spice Crusted Tuna Sashimi which led to a lesson in how-not-to-set-your-kitchen-alight-by-trying-to-deliberately-set-your-kitchen-alight… Let me explain. One of the ladies has a fear of starting a fire in her kitchen so Tom decided to try and set fire to the hot oil in the fry pan (meant for searing the tuna chunks we’d rubbed with the spice crust), to prove the point that a fire in a kitchen can be snuffed out quickly and easily and will never spread far, so long as you don’t panic. Unfortunately for Tom, it was one of those moments where all eyes are on you, you’re set to perform and then the power goes out. The more oil he poured (yes, I mean literally tipping the pan up and pouring the oil!) directly onto the flame, the more we all backed away (you should have seen the woman with the phobia – I think she was wishing she’d never mentioned her fear!) the less the flames grew. The oil just wouldn’t catch alight. Which ironically proved the point that it’s actually very difficult to start a fire in a kitchen. Full stop. Still, I’m not sure it did much to calm her fears…! Now she probably just thinks all chefs are mad.
Next up we had Roast Duck Salad with Orange, Watercress & Warm Hazelnut Vinaigrette and a Grilled Fig & Fennel Salad with Goats Cheese & Roasted Almonds. Well, those that know me know that old Donald and me go way back and that after my year cooking with Jamie, I no longer turn my nose up at the quacking bird, so when Tom asked me to take over the pan with the duck, it was like walking back into the arms of a long lost friend. OK, so I exaggerate, but at least I didn’t cringe at the thought of the fat rendering underneath the crispy skin. Once upon a time that would have made me shudder. In the end the duck salad was like a fresh and fancy take on Duck a l’Orange and it certainly delivered this old favourite in a stylish new way.
But it was the fig, fennel and goats cheese salad that won my heart. The figs and fennel were cooked on a grill til soft and sticky and tossed in a classic balsamic and oil dressing with rocket, mint, basil, shaved parmesan, crumbled goats cheese, toasted almonds and some dried sour cherries. I mean, what is not to love about that combo? It includes four of my favourite things. Sensational. And sweet and mushy, like a big warm hug!
So I didn’t meet the man of my dreams, but I did learn some kitchen tips and eat some fabulous food. I also learnt that even though my knife skills might not match the professionals, I actually am pretty handy in the kitchen. I guess I knew this already, but it’s always nice to look around a room and know I might be the only one who actually owns a pestle and mortar.
And though I didn’t lock eyes across the kitchen and walk off into the sunset with our sole bachelor Garth, I did see him swapping numbers with one of the other ladies at the end of the class. Maybe love will simmer and bloom!