A and her boyfriend, L, seemed for a while to be obsessed with Jamie Oliver – watching all his shows and cooking from his books (though neither of them is much of a recipe follower). They’re both great cooks and actually, I think L has influenced my cooking – I’m much more confident with using LOTS of aromatics now, so, where I may once have used a measly half bunch of coriander in something (for example), I’m not scared now to throw in a proper handful (and my hands are pretty big!). So, when thinking about what to give L for Christmas I thought why not take him to Recipease Notting Hill (which had reminded me, the first time I went there, of the Teaching Kitchen idea in Jamie’s American Food Revolution (which I absolutely loved) and where A, L and I had previously been for coffee) for a cookery class. In truth, I suspected that the classes might be a bit easy for L but, where food is concerned, he’s always up for trying things out so…why not.
I said that I’d go along too if L wanted (mwah ha ha – oh dear, my dastardly plot is out in the open) and between us we settled upon a class and a date. We picked Vietnamese street food because from the description it seemed as though we would cover a number of cooking methods and I certainly have never cooked Vietnamese food before.
Fast forward a few weeks to the night before the lesson and I thought I’d best text L to make sure he was remembering about the class – good job too as he was actually in Liverpool with A and had forgotten all about it! Tut.
I arrived first and was directed to my class which was at the back of the shop, on the ground floor, and once I’d collected my apron, deposited my personal effects in a locker and washed my hands, I sat down with my group stressing about whether L would arrive in time to join us (his train was delayed and he thought he would be a little late). We were all sat around a long high (breakfast bar height) table at the very back of the room, and most of the group were drinking beer or wine (I stuck to water – that is until the bad influence that is L arrived) a bottle or glass of which was included in the cost of the class.
L arrived just after our teacher, Chef (actually his name was Simon), had assembled us around one of the work stations to demonstrate the first dish, Scrumptious Vietnamese pork balls (the scrumptious is my addition to the recipe title as I think it gives it a real Jamie Oliver twang), that we would be cooking but before that, he went through a few housekeeping notes and, I must say, he was rather entertaining, not least because he bore more than a passing resemblance, voice and face, to Michael McIntyre.
Ingredients and pans at the ready.
Chef sounded out our cooking levels and skills by asking lots of questions about ingredients and cooking methods and I think, pitched the class accordingly. I learnt something about chillies, namely, it is the white pith that the seeds are attached to and NOT the actual seeds that provides the majority of heat in a chilli. I was also surprised by the meat used, it was more of a very fine dice than a mince and I think that’s why, in part at least, the finished balls were spectacular – so moist, sweet and juicy.
Pork ball mixture with beer in the background.
Once the dish had been demoed, we were assigned a cooking station and, in pairs, we all proceeded to get chopping, mixing and slow frying (to allow a rich and deep caramelisation to occur). L and I also proceeded to drink several more bottles of very tasty Camden Town Brewery, Camden Hells lager and Camden Pale Ale.
L smashing up some garlic (for his dipping sauce, though – I did get onioned and garlicked, was my fault), beer in the foreground.
While the pork balls were cooking, the other dishes, summer rolls and dipping sauce were demonstrated by Chef and recreated by us and the prep for the beef pho (the stock for which Chef had prepared earlier) was done.
Oh my, wish I were cooking some of those RIGHT NOW.
A pile of julienned veg and a wrapper, waiting to be turned into a summer roll, with my (sans garlic) dipping sauce in the background.
Once the pork balls were cooked, everything was plated up, Chef poured hot pho stock over our bowls of prepared veg and raw beef (the hot stock being enough to ‘cook’ the tender slices) and we all sat down with a drink to enjoy the meal we’d just prepared. There weren’t enough spaces for all of us around the long table so L and I sloped off to a counter in the window, by the entrance, which had been set up for us and chatted and watched the world go by as we ate.
Not entirely sure what L is doing here, but I like an action shot.
I’m a Jamie Oliver fan and I’ll not hear a word said against him…mwah ha, having said that – I do think that there should be space for everyone to sit and eat together if that’s the general vibe, we felt a bit like scolded little school children, banished to the naughty step (which, in L’s case would have been appropriate – though I don’t think Chef noticed him throwing our lime repeatedly in the air, higher and higher each time, while waiting for the pork balls to cook, he did, however, notice L’s rather brilliant knife skills).
The view from the naughty step ain’t too shabby.
All in all, I’d say if you’re already a pretty competent and confident cook these classes probably won’t teach you much, they are only two or three hours long afterall and I don’t think that’s their aim, (though there’s nothing to stop you asking lots of questions) but for a fun outing and an interesting way of cooking lunch/supper I would highly recommend them. And, if you’re not great at cooking, if you’re friendlier with a microwave than a sauce/griddle/frying pan etc…get thee down there! You will learn something, you’ll enjoy it and you’ll get a delicious meal to boot.
After the course you’re emailed the recipes for the dishes that were demoed on the night and, as I write this, I realise that I learnt something else – don’t be afraid (in other words stop being so lazy) of a long list of ingredients, what appears like an essay on the page is often little more than a bit of organisation and a lot of chop chop chopping. I mean, when I was doing the cooking, I didn’t think I was working with lots of ingredients, it all felt very simple but when I now look at the recipes I know that ingredient lists that long would make me turn the page, swiftly.