Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Class Act

Once again I dip my fingers in a chef’s pot. It is great to see the evolution of food; raw ingredients turning into tasty dishes; pure amateurs crafting meals once reserved to fancy chefs; and experiencing the joys of being part of the creative process of preparing a meal.

Chef extra ordenaire, Marco Cammarata, once again opens his kitchen to patrons who want to bring home some gastronomic expertise in their own kitchens. His witty and affectionate manners make cooking look fun and easy; he can join the ranks of the likes of Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali. So better grab the chance to get entertained by him before he gets discovered by the food channel!

Cooking, to me, is more stimulating than tiring. Knowing how to appreciate food, it is easy to assume that kitchen work is painless. Actually, coming up with the idea is far more fetching than preparing a good meal. This is what cooking classes do- inspire, motivate and build confidence.

As if chefs are not content with delivering skillfully plated inventive dishes to their guests, they want to add another feather to their caps by mentoring proletarian epicureans. “It’s far more effortless to cook something at home than walk to a fast food place, order food and bring it home. A delicious pasta sauce can be prepared in a “shower time” and be enjoyed better knowing it was prepared by your own hands”, says Marco.

The four of us arrived shortly before 11am, the ice breaker was a short conversation over a cup of cappuccino, followed by snipping and goggling some herbs and spices before the main event (4 course menu) that started promptly at 11am.

Pasta with one-note accompaniments, such as EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), mushrooms, pungent cheeses and rich red tomatoes was one of our target dishes. One thing that sets Marco’s cooking class aside from the many around town is that he customizes the menu and number of students according to demand.

Garbed with a chef’s double-breasted white uniform, we all took part in the entire process of slicing, chopping and brewing, and had a chance to get inside information from the master of the kitchen, absorbing invaluable tips worth coming to class for. I love that we made food that are easily made at home: risotto; ragout; pasta with pesto and putanesca sauce. No fancy pan-seared Wagyu beef encrusted in pancetta and truffles, just simple but appetizing dishes.

Marco had a few key tips that I made sure to absorb, such as: reducing and turning up the heat at the appropriate time is key to cooking- lots of heat will roast the onions and garlic, while reduced heat melts it for easy blending. It is essential to cook pasta with lots of water so the noodles have enough room and don’t stick together (2 liters/100g of pasta), then there’s no need to add oil.

Making vegetable stock as a base to a dish or sauce is easy. The holy trinity of onion-carrot-celery is the basic ingredients. “Simmer, interfere (meaning reducing heat and adding some herbs and spices) and shrink the mixture”, as Marco always says. The secret to a good ragout is mincing herbs in the same texture as the minced meat, so it has the same consistency. When herbs and spices come into play in a dish, there’s almost no need to add salt. And for those who are inept in chopping finely, use a whisk to stir. Finally, a splash of wine at the end will refresh the dish.

Close to 1pm, we were starving to eat what we had been making and smelling. For me, the anticipation seemed more heightened by having finally become an insider in Belguardo’s professional open kitchen.

Cooking can bring you instant rewards, and you can astonish yourself with healthy home cooked meals that you normally have to get from fancy restaurants. Even if you aren't inclined to cook, remember it isn’t rocket science, just have fun. It’ll be nice to organize a class with some friends and then enjoy the meal after. That’s one special party!

Like life, in cooking practice makes prefect. Seeing the complexity of dishes will make you appreciate a good chef and good food better. Once in a while, it is also good to take the driver’s seat and whip up a dish in between the pampering we get from chefs. I think the essential rationale of a cooking class is to see the fruition of food from simple concepts and fresh ingredients into meals that have that wow factor – see how the magic happens and be part of it.

Italian Restaurant & Wine Lounge
Cuisine by Marco Cammarata
Cooking class (including lunch): 1,500B per person

Unit 515 Ground Floor,Siam Paragon Centre; Tel +66 (0) 2-610-9380

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