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Cooking School

 
NO LONGER the domain of matrons from the genteel suburbs, today's cooking school attendees tick all the demographic boxes. They are both older and younger, almost equally split between men and women, live in Ascot and Arana Hills and their skills vary from kitchen challenged to accomplished cooks.

Whether looking to simply indulge in a bit of culinary voyeurism or with a real and desperate need to learn basic kitchen survival techniques, there's a cooking school to suit everyone.

THE CELEBRITY CLASS

Black Pearl

Maggie Beer, Kylie Kwong, Shannon Bennett of Vue de Monde in Melbourne just a trio of big names who have presented classes at Black Pearl Epicure in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. These chefs all have the ability to pull in the crowds why? "People feel like they know them," cooking school manager Vicki Bright says.

"They may have been to their restaurants, they've got their cookbooks or they've seen them on television and want to see the chef in person and learn the recipes. Plus, these chefs have credibility we know they can cook."

With celebrity chefs often spending more time in aeroplanes or television studios than restaurant kitchens, these type of classes can sometimes be the only opportunity to see and learn from them and according to Bright, constitute money well spent. "Really, when you think about it, it offers great value; for around $130 you get to eat a meal cooked by a great chef, with four glasses of wine and take home their recipes to try yourself."

While some are great chefs, not all are good teachers. "As much as cooking is an art, so is the teaching of it," Bright says. "Good cooking teachers are storytellers, educators, but also know how to have fun and connect with people. Max Porter, who for many years did our barbecue classes was a messy old cook, but he had a great rapport with people and had a lot of fun with it."

It's not only big-name southern chefs who do classes at Black Pearl, though. Brisbane locals such as Olivier Sofo from Salon Lounge + Tapas in Teneriffe bring their expertise with classes in cuisines such as his native Italian. Thierry Galichet of Montrachet in Paddington demonstrates French bistro fare, while Good Life's Philip Johnson shows his skills in modern Australian cuisine.

MASTERCLASS WEEKEND

If you're into celebrity chef spotting, then the 2008 Hilton Brisbane/Courier-Mail/Singapore Airlines Masterclass is the place to be. Some of Australia's best as well as international guests will be showing off their cooking credentials over the two-day event. This year will be the lucky 13th and the event offers the opportunity to attend 20 different sessions given by chefs and winemakers.

What kind of people come along? "There are those who really love food, who like to watch things being prepared but wouldn't necessarily cook them, and others who come and watch then go home and cook the dishes that night or the next day," says organiser Alison Alexander.

While the final program is still under wraps, the ticket price, which is valid for the entire weekend, includes demonstration classes by chefs such as Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, Jeremy and Jane Strode from Bistrode in Sydney, Brett Graham from The Ledbury in London and James Halliday and Nick Farr in the "vintage" room on wine.

"What people love is not just the cooking, but the stories the chefs bring with them," Alexander says. "A good presenter gives a bit of entertainment; they have to know their subject, but also tell anecdotes about who they learnt the dish from, what their inspiration was that appeals to the audience."

As well as the cooking classes, every attendee receives two small samples of everything in the food classes, and wine samples in the wine rooms (except some of the vintage wines classes for which they'll have to pay a premium), as well as a 150-page book with all the recipes.

THE PRACTICAL CLASS

Executive Chef

Since domestic science classes have been pretty much "taken off the curriculum", Jackie Passmore says, our cooking skills have been suffering. Passmore is a presenter/cook at Executive Chef in South Brisbane.

"While we get people who come here to cook as a hobby, we also have people who actually need to know how to cook. There are a lot of people with some big gaps in their knowledge out there," she says.

Passmore's classes run every Monday night, and twice a month she does a demonstration class, in everything from ice cream, sorbet and granita to duck and quail masterclasses. Passmore also arms students with basics such as knife skills, how to handle produce and the cooking times of different foods.

"What I aim to do is to teach the class how to do things in the traditional way the chopping, pounding and cooking. Then when they're finished, I'll teach them the shortcuts," she says.

Passmore says that with so many high-quality prepared ingredients like pastes and sauces available, the key is knowing how to integrate them with fresh produce to deliver an authentic taste in less time. "It's how you can make it and cut corners rather than mixing it up. I'm a nut about keeping cuisines pure," she says.

The most popular class features Asian cuisine, with seafood and curries up in the top three, and the classes attract folks aged 14 to 70-plus.

James Street Cooking School

"Initially it was just the gourmand, now it's the average person who wants to expand their repertoire," says James Street Cooking School owner John Meredith. His aim, he says is to teach how to cook restaurant-quality food that is "realistic and not unachievable".

"It's not using flash ingredients that are only available at wholesalers. We've got a domestic kitchen set-up here, so that they can go home and cook it themselves with no surprises."

It seems Australians still embrace the unofficial culinary symbol the ubiquitous barbie. "Number one are the barbecue classes you'd imagine that it would only be in summer, but the barbecue classes are popular all year around," Meredith says.

Since starting out he's seen such an increase in the number of people wanting to do cooking classes, he now has three full-time chefs conducting hands-on and demonstration classes as well as specialised classes, such as chocolate desserts or Christmas cooking.

LEARN FROM A LOCAL

Italian

You can get it from a cookbook, but there's nothing like the firsthand experience that comes from a cook who is immersed in that culture. For pizza fans who wondered where Desley and Pietro Agnoletto went after the Schonell Pizza Cafe, the answer is Rathdowney, in the Beaudesert Shire. The two have not given up their love of good Italian home-cooked food, and Desley is using her skill to teach others.

While not Italian-born, Desley knows a thing or two about Italian food, from both her husband, who's acknowledged as Brisbane's best pizza maker, and his mother with whom she spent 18 months living in Italy. "She never used recipes so it was a matter of watching and copying," Desley says.

Of all the cuisines we have adopted, Italian remains close to Australians' hearts. According to Desley, the beauty of Italian cuisine is the Italian's ability to create from little, often using leftovers and cheaper ingredients. "I started developing recipes for pasta sauces using the leftover ingredients from Pietro's pizzas artichoke, eggplant, garlic and tomato and more."

With a love of cooking and entertaining, it was natural for her to go back to cooking classes. "It's Italian, but I try to use a lot of local ingredients, both things I grow here and locally grown like the Beaudesert blue pumpkin, or the local rosellas I use for gelato. I try to us use as much organic produce as possible too." Desley will teach not only pasta sauces, but a skill that eludes many of us � homemade pasta. "In Italy it's about the pasta not the sauce. We use too much sauce here and often overcook the pasta," she says.

She also makes some of the dishes which she says are "not necessarily found in recipe books" dishes taught to her by Pietro's mother.

Pietro himself doesn't get away with a leisurely life on the farm, being called in to assist with pizza-making class, held on their property where they have their own domestic pizza oven. "It weighs 1.5 tonnes, I reckon we're the only idiots in the world to have one at home."

Thai

Our love affair with Thai food doesn't seem about to abate.

In fact, it's more popular than ever. Raymund Venzin, the owner of Mons Ban Sabai restaurant and cooking school in Camp Hill says: "We just can't meet demand. The interest has continued to grow and we could do a lot more classes if we wanted."

So what is it about Thai food that appeals so much? "The fresh ingredients, the variety of fruit and vegetables and the balance of flavours of sweet and sour, hot and spicy," Venzin says.

The classes offer the opportunity to learn under the expert tutelage of the restaurant's chef, Ksinee Sae Jung, and are held at the restaurant every Saturday morning, according to demand.

They are hands-on classes and each participant is presented with a knife and chopping board and given instructions. Attendees leave with the knowledge of how to balance the four elements.

"I think people are surprised at how easy it is. We do it together, then sit down and eat the meal we create," Jung says.

Keep a lookout for Good Life's partner feature next month on leisure cooking classes beautiful places near and far you can go to learn and often stay overnight.


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