Howdy folks! Just my usual “free stuff” disclaimer here (meaning that for the following outing I was invited along as a guest and didn’t have to pay). Rest assured that I fought hard to retain my sense of journalistic and ethical integrity, and now that you’re aware of that you can read on in peace…
I love cooking, and I consider myself pretty handy at it too. One of my favourite things in the world to do (especially in wintry weather) is to chuck a record on the turntable, crank up the volume, roll up my sleeves and get stuck in to some hard-core kitchen adventures. Being the well-travelled and worldly type that I am these cooking escapades cross lots of borders any incorporate many different cuisines, but up to now I’ve never really attempted any Middle Eastern dishes. To be honest I’ve had very little contact with Middle Eastern culture full stop (save for repeated viewings of Aladdin when I was a kid, and I don’t think that counts for much really), so when I received an invitation to attend the Cooking Professor’s Middle Eastern cooking class I leapt at it faster than a certain Arabian street urchin diving for his magic carpet.
I arrived at The Cooking Professor’s custom built kitchen classroom in Churchlands ready and eager to learn and was met by Riki, who in addition to being one of the owners was also going to be teaching the class. A bubbly Israeli woman that grew up in Haifa and moved to Australia 17 years ago, Riki started out as a theatre actress before discovering her passion for cooking, training as a chef and entering the restaurant game. That being said, you can take a girl out of the theatre but you can’t take the theatre out of the girl. If you’re confused as to what I mean by that then just take one of her classes and within 15 minutes you’ll know (she’s not exactly what you’d call a shy, retiring butterfly).
Once everyone had arrived we donned out oh-so-sexy aprons and were lead through to the kitchen area for our introduction to Middle Eastern cooking. As far as introductions go, this one would have to be one of the best I’ve ever experienced as Riki whipped up a gorgeous, simple entrée of warm roasted eggplant, garlic, salt, parsley and olive oil served with Turkish bread for us taste before she gave us the rundown on Middle Eastern cuisine and the way the evening was to proceed. We were going to prepare seven dishes: Hummus, Babaganush, Lamb Kofta (with yoghurt and pomegranate), Rice and Silver beet, Chicken, Green Bean and Eggplant Casserole, Fatush Salad and Mini Baklava.
The way things work is that each dish has its own station set up and one or two people are assigned to each of them. You have your ingredients all laid out and a recipe to follow. Should you need assistance with anything then Riki is on hand to provide it and if there are certain finer points that need further explanation then you are all called over to that particular station to watch as she guides you through it. What this means is that you spend the class running from place to place getting your own dish prepared while at the same time learning the ins and outs of the rest. If this sounds a little chaotic it is, but that’s all part of the fun. What it does mean is that you get to see first-hand all of the little tricks and tips to preparing the dishes properly (such as how to cut onions without crying or the importance of leaving the yoghurt out for a while to draw out the water) and experience them with all of your senses including smell, taste and touch. This is where the cooking class really comes in to its own, as no cooking show or recipe book is ever going to be able to match the hands on experience of being there right in amongst it.
All your hard work isn’t without reward however as, come the end of the cooking process, you all get to sit down and eat the food you’ve slaved away so hard to prepare. Now I don’t know whether it was that we were especially talented pupils or that Riki is just a brilliant teacher (I suspect it’s rather more of the latter), but it was all delicious. The highlights for me would have to be the deliciously smoky Babaganush, the rich Hummus (prepared by yours truly) and the Rice and Silverbeet, which despite its deceptively simply name was a brilliant dish that easily trumped the more elaborate sounding ones as the class favourite. Enjoying the fruits of your labour over a glass of wine and a chat with your newfound classmates is also the perfect way to round off the evening.
Having never done a cooking class before I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the whole affair. The Cooking Professor has a great setup full of professional grade cooking gear and Riki proved to be both an entertaining and informative teacher. It also managed to strike a good balance in terms of skill and technique so that everyone from experienced Master Chef wannabes to hardly-ever-picked-up-a-knife cooking newbies are able to participate fully and take something away from the class. This could be new cooking skills and techniques or simply the inspiration to get the in the kitchen more often and enjoy the experience of cooking good food. The Cooking Professor offers a range of different classes taken by chefs that specialise in certain cuisines, so check their website here for details and prices. Now while I was lucky enough to get my spot free of charge, $110 isn’t really all that much considering that you get several hours of hands on cooking tuition and a lovely meal and also come away with a whole bunch of new culinary arrows in your cooking quiver with which to wow your friends and family the next time they come around for dinner.