Taking a cooking lesson is high on a lot of people’s agenda when they travel. For some people, cooking is almost synonymous with travel. I am not one of those people. While many seem to find cooking relaxing, I find it stressful. I think it’s got a lot to do with timing, one ingredient in one pot has to go on the stove before another ingredient in another pot and then they all have to be ready at the same time. One link in the chain fails, and you go from delicacy to disaster pretty fast. Generally, I'm just thankful to have escaped from the kitchen without it (or me) catching on fire. So at first I was a little surprised when Simon bought me a voucher for a vegetarian cooking lesson for Christmas (but then I figured it was probably a hint that I was no longer fooling him with my ‘gourmet’ baked beans). So one sunny Saturday, we took ourselves off to The Cooking Professor in Mount Hawthorn in Perth.
The Cooking Professor is a school owned by Israeli chef Riki Kaspi. She’s known for specialising in North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, but the classes at the cooking school offer a wide range of options. Some of these include bread making, Indian street food, baking, and cocktail masterclasses (which sounds a little more my style).
The school has a spacious industrial kitchen, with three separate preparation benches and a main cooking area. Our group of 12 was split into pairs and each given a different dish to cook. Much to my relief, and the best interests of the group, Simon and I were assigned broccolini with goats cheese and a hazelnut vinaigrette. I figured even I couldn’t stuff that up! The first thing I learned was how to de-skin a hazelnut (bake it in the oven and then rub it in a towel - ingenious!) Then we got to work with the mortar and pestle, a contraption I've seen before but never actually had an urge to use.
In between preparing our own dish, we stopped to watch our instructor Gen help different groups with parts of their recipes. The first thing we learned was how to make paneer, a hard cheese often used in Indian cooking. It was pretty much just a matter of pouring milk and apple cider vinegar into a saucepan and scooping out the curd. I’d never imagined it would be so simple (OK, it looked simple, I haven’t actually tried it yet).
We also learned how to peel capsicums after char-grilling them, how to toss things in a frypan without them spilling over the edge, and how to cut an onion properly (which I immediately stuffed up when trying to replicate it - Sigh). But most of the other preparation went quite smoothly...
The hour and a half flew by, and before we knew it, we had collectively made a babaganoush (eggplant dip); zucchini, roast peppers and olive salad; chickpea & paneer fritters; soft polenta with mushroom and kale ragout and a stone fruit and vanilla chia pudding, and of course our prize-winning broccolini.
Then we got to the really fun part of the class…the eating! It was really nice to sit down with everyone and taste what they’d made and ask them about how they’d prepared it.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience, although I found it quite difficult to keep up with what everyone else was doing on their benches. I definitely learned the most during the times when Gen pulled us all together to teach us a technique or to explain something to the group.
I did note on their website that they also do a lesson on how to match wines with different cheeses, and I have to say that’s a bit more like my idea of food preparation!
For more info see: www.thecookingprofessor.com.au