Choosing a Chinese or Asian Cooking Class
There are as many types of cooking classes as there are international cuisines. You may find yourself in a small, intimate setting, free to question the instructor at will. Or you may be seated with fifty other foodies, watching the chef do his thing from an elevated dais at the front of the room. Either way, a cooking class is a great way to learn more about a particular cuisine. Here are a few of my more memorable one-day cooking class experiences:
of Southeast Asia"
This was a half-day course featuring chef Nathan Hyam, author of Simply Thai. Hyam introduced us to five popular Southeast Asian dishes, beginning with Cantonese potstickers - complete with dipping sauce - and finishing with Singapore Curried Rice Noodles.
Hyam taught the course in the basement of a local cooking store specifically adapted for this purpose. Long tables were set out in rows. Low lighting and elegant place settings heightened the sense of intimacy. The crystal wine glasses beside each plate raised my hopes that something a little stronger than coffee would be served.
I perched on a stool facing the front of the room, where Hyam would cut, shred and stir-fry in a well lit cooking area complete with two restaurant-size woks. A strategically placed mirror above the cooking area ensured everyone had an excellent view.
Hyam proved to be an entertaining and knowledgeable guide to Southeast Asian cooking. It came as no surprise when he told us that he gave up running his own restaurant to teach cooking classes to high school students. He was a fount of information, sharing cooking tidbits and turning small mishaps into an opportunity to show how to make emergency modifications to a recipe. My favorite dish was Indonesian Gado Gado Salad - a colorful assortment of vegetables was topped with a yummy dressing made with cilantro, peanut butter and chili paste. Hyam suggested garnishing the dish with edible flowers as a final touch.
Because this was a short course, all the cutting and food preparation was completed ahead of time. Also, there was no hands-on component: the idea was to relax, learn and enjoy the final results.
Store staff began serving an excellent wine (unfortunately I forgot to write down the name) somewhere between the fourth and fifth dish. Refills were forthcoming. I left the store feeling sated, satisfied and decidedly tipsy. A very pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
This was a full one-day course held at the Chinese Cultural Center. Based on the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, I feel cheered every time I see the building's bright red columns and unusual blue-tiled roof.
Passing the lions guarding the stairs, I entered the building and immediately turned right into a tiny kitchen. There was barely enough room for one long table, chairs and a stove.
The Asian instructor flagged me down as I entered the room. It turned out I was a victim of one of those annoying bureaucratic foul-ups that happen to us all on occasion. I had been told the course would be taught in English, while our instructor thought everyone spoke Cantonese. However, she was very accommodating, patiently repeating instructions and directions in English throughout the day. Classmates came to my aid as well, translating the recipes. (I now know the Chinese symbols for tablespoon and other common cooking terms).
While this strategy worked for me, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. Since Chinese Cuisine is my passion, I didn't need to ask basic questions about stir-frying or steaming. What questions I did ask I chose carefully, since I didn't think it was fair to make the instructor repeat the entire course in English!
The atmosphere throughout the day was very relaxed. One woman brought her little girl, who took great delight in helping roll out the dough for scallion pancakes. I left with my arms piled high with Styrofoam boxes containing yummy leftovers, and an addiction to stir-fried Bean Curd Rolls filled with roasted seaweed.
One thing I noticed was that not all the recipes were, strictly speaking, vegetarian. For example, one called for Worcestershire sauce. Still, overall the course provided excellent ideas for incorporating Chinese ingredients into a vegetarian diet.
The incomparable Martin Yan performed at the Calgary Stampede last summer. An hour with Yan deserves an entire article, which you can read here.