Postcard from the Edge of a Wok

Recently there have been many celebrity cooks making a mint by flambéing a cumquat with some anchovy paste, chucking in a crawfish tail and garnishing with a couple of quails eggs – so the thought goes, why not give it a whirl (or should that be whisk?)

As my 2nd favourite food in the world is spicy Asian (the first being mum’s lentil soup) the “Thai Wok Course” looked like being a winner and on a rainy Friday night the 1st Mannheim Cooking School opened its doors to us. A shiny work-area lay before us and was home to immaculate bowls, colourful chopping boards, knives and many unidentifiable implements. Utensils were interspersed with fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and bowl of something still moving, which we all subtly shied away from heading towards the bar, where a class of champagne awaited.

Our chef, Timo, was very experienced, having worked all over the world and for several Michelin star chefs. He basically showed us what needed to be done and then stood back watching us, interspacing the chopping with amusing stories of the sometimes violent reaction of 3 star chefs when a customer asks for salt. With this in mind, I neglected to ask for ketchup – or better still some HP sauce – which I am still convinced would have made everything taste much better.

We created a 5 course menu, consisting of:
– Coconut cream soup with shrimps
– Chicken curry with pineapple
– Fried noodles with seafood
– Crispy duck with chili sauce rounded off by
– Banana pancakes and coffee
and created basically everything from scratch, learning a lot as we went along.

I was especially interested in the seafood, so spent much time de-gutting the shrimps and preparing the calamari rings. It was real teamwork as the individual courses slowly emerged, the piles of food were turned in to piles of detritus and the number of dirty utensils used rocketed. (Thankfully, we had a washer-upper who was very adept).

As each course came to fruition, we took a break, ate and then returned to the work-area to complete the next dish. After the soup, it was time to tackle the moving stuff in the bowl. These turned out be Venus mussels, which had to be individually checked for life and then killed in a sauté pan. Luckily they did not scream in death, but popped open as they expired – and they were delicious in the seafood dish.

The entire experience lasted over 6 hours until the coffee was finally served – and each course was superb (although I say so myself). It was also an excellent educational experience – I know the secret to making crispy duck (you have to boil it before you deep fry it), the dos and don’ts of preparing a plethora of seafood and the proper way of handling a number of exotic spices.

I will certainly have a go of preparing some the dishes at home, but really a huge kitchen and many, many utensils are necessary for such a banquet. However, I am available for hire.

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