Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cool Karoo Cooking Classes

- André Jaquet -

African Relish Recreational Cooking School has had the brilliant idea of combining forces with others in our village to provide courses to all who want to learn more of the secrets of good cooking. For their December master class, the idea was that the traditional hot turkey and flaming Christmas pudding might be delicious on a cold winter day in the Northern Hemisphere but that something else would be more suitable in the Karoo.

So, in mid-December African Relish’s resident chef, Vanie Padayachee and another of our celebrity chefs, Bokkie Botha, hosted a course on how best to prepare a Karoo Christmas dinner worthy of such an important time of the year.

The response was good and on the appointed day ten of us from all over South Africa met over a light lunch and spent the afternoon learning about basic kitchen skills. I was fascinated by the demonstration of knife skills which turn out to be one of the key ingredients in preparing a meal that looks as good as it tastes. Later, Colleen Penfold gave us very imaginative ideas of how to decorate the table for special occasions

The next morning was spent at Gay’s Dairy and at the local Saturday market selecting the best and freshest produce for a Karoo Christmas dinner. We then returned to the kitchen where we started preparing that evening’s dinner. Never in a thousand years did I expect to see earnest faces and hear people expressing themselves in a whole range of noises, from squeals of delight to angry cursing.

Normally restrained folk were going through quite unimaginable contortions, trying to de-bone, prepare and braai butterflied legs of lamb. At the same time we were expected to be making and grilling traditional roosterkoek. Just try doing that while also making ricotta cheese from scratch, preparing a hot tomato sauce and aubergine rolls with courgette, peppers and Ricotta cheese.

As always, contrasts are a daily feature of life in Prince Albert and on a counter close to the hot ovens we attempted to produce freezing chocolate, coffee and nougat semifredo desserts and cutting ten different types of fruit for a truly different fruit salad. More than one of us was caught wiping sweaty foreheads with the muslin bag that had just made the ricotta!

Our real reward came when we sat down and the food we had made tasted so fresh and original and quite out of this world. It certainly gave me an idea of what goes on behind the scenes at quiet and serene good restaurants. As I looked at my co-chefs, I swear I heard the unspoken words: “Move over Jamie Oliver: here we come!”

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