Monday, July 18, 2005

Celia's School for Performing Vegetables

Last Saturday I went for my first cookery class. A big day in any amateur cook’s life; after crying for half an hour and refusing to let go of the kitchen table leg, Blanca managed to get my socks and shoes on and turf me out onto the street – destination Notting Hill.

Honestly, the idea of going to a cookery class is more significant than it appears:
- It naturally goes against the zarzamora philosophy of learning through hands-on; “being married to a cook and loitering in the kitchen”.
- It showed blanca up as being waaay more scheming than she appears – she told me that she had booked two places, but when I turned up she reported that she didn’t have time and I’d have to go alone. The things she does to get me learning…
- Most importantly; it was a great class and has reinforced in me much about what makes interesting cuisine and cooking...

It was “Vegetarian Indian Workshop” at books for cooks, london. I’m neither vegetarian nor Indian, but blanca reliably informed me that the instructor was one of the best around so would be well worth seeing. I trusted her on this point. The class was given by celia brooks brown a “passionate cook” and vegetarian. I can now vouch for both. It was a sweltering London afternoon; the 1pm – 2.30pm slot (I don’t know much about cooking classes, but this has got to be a challenging slot… the room was full of 25 hot, hungry and demanding food geeks (I mean this with the greatest respect to my fellow geeks)). Celia had tripped that morning; bashed her chin and her back, and by her own admission was not “firing on all cylinders”.

Arty photo of the back of heads of the two ladies in front...

She instantly engaged the audience by asking how many were vegetarian or had been to India. Surprisingly only half were vegetarian and 2 people had been to India. This is quite a tribute to the draw of celia.

The class covered 5 recipes:
- Kerala-style egg curry – I’m going to blog this during the week
- Masala dosa – traditional southern dish with pancakes
- Idli – a morning semolina muffin
- Coconut chutney
- Tomato and cashew chutney

Celia cooked all of the dishes with utter confidence; juggling 2 burners, an oven and chopping at the same time, she made the dishes look comparatively simple (I’ll put this to the test later). She explained the recipes to a great level of detail.

On this basis alone it would have been a good cookery class, but celia excels in something that raised it out of the realms of PRACTICAL workshop into a class on the JOY of food. It is obvious that she enjoys the technical aspects of cuisine as much as the philosophical. It was in the “asides” and hints that she appealed to me; some examples of this:
- Slice chillies lengthways in order to reduce the heat of the curry. This is a style adopted in many Indian dishes and allows eaters control their spiciness – they can either bite into the chilli or avoid it.
- The capsaicin in chilli trigger the pain receptors in the brain and release of endorphins in the body similar in order to fight the pain. This is similar to “runner’s high”. In this way curry can prove somewhat addictive.
- Jaggery was new to me. This is solid palm treacle. It has a sweet honey like flavour and is a great addition to chutneys.
- A really strong, pungent pepper (that I’ve forgotten) which is native to Kerala.
- Kerala, the south western part of India, is quite poor. This can been seen in the fact that they cook with sunflower oil instead of clarified butter. This substitution of saturated fats actually increases the wholesomeness of the cuisine.
- The size of chilli is a good indication of its pungency; the smaller chillies tend to be more potent. By cutting and holding the tip of the chilli to your tongue you can determine the heat of it.
- When cooking onions for curry, you want them to retain their moisture. As a result you don’t add salt as this has the effect of drawing out the water.

The science of food is obviously my “thing” at the moment so I was particularly aware of this aspect of the class. Celia was also very open and personal about her joy of food. One great analogy that she made was to compare a meal to a theatrical production. In both cases you have a script, actors and an audience. The only difference, I guess, is that you shouldn’t eat the actors in real-life.

I dig the ceiling mirrors in cookery schools - I wonder could I convince Blanca that we need one at home...

Probably the best testament to the class is that it has inspired me to make the dishes. I will blog about these over the forthcoming days. I’m not going to break the habit of learning through loitering / blogging etc., but, I have learnt to jump at the opportunity to attend workshops of passionate, informed and personal discussions of food…

Go to one of Celia’s classes or gastrotours. You can find booking details at her website. If you don’t live in London, check out her books – we have most of them and use them a lot. You won’t regret it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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They grow up to 15in long and 2in wide.
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