Sunday, 20 February 2011


I'm on my way to a one day cooking class in North London. Normally, group activities are my idea of hell, especially if there is a competitive element involved.  Masterchef is great to watch, but to take part?  It's all sweaty brows, fumbling fingers and yards of sticky, blue elastoplast.  Then the ritual dissection and public humiliation.  And an early exit through the swinging doors before tearful pieces to camera.  
So what will a day's cooking at Food at 52 be like, I wonder? 
(see their website at:

Many thanks to Nicky Martin for the photo

Fortunately, John Benbow is no John Torode;  Michel Roux and Greg Wallace are nowhere to be seen. Just a dozen of us waiting anxiously to begin.  After cups of tea in the sunny, spacious kitchen, we do our introductions and get into pairs ready to start. Our first task, to de-seed 150 birdseye chillies, soon burns off any English reserve, but then we are not all English and we are cooking Thai food.  John proves to be an entertaining, attentive and inspiring teacher. We get busy with the creative stuff: slicing and dicing; peeling and chopping; stir-frying in coconut cream; simmering in the oven; mixing and stirring; and tasting, tasting, tasting with our individual, plastic spoons.  No worries about sourcing or collecting provisions: it's all done.  No worries about clearing away or washing up: it's all done.  All we do is cook, and chat, and compare our bubbling cauldrons.  The kitchen gets steamy; tantalising aromas drift out of the woks. And slowly  some great dishes emerge: Beef Panaeng (rich, creamy); Green Curry with Sea Bream and Peppercorns (fresh, delicate); mussels in Lime and Lychee (fragrant, spicy); and a crisp, tangy Green Mango, Green Papaya and Pomelo salad.
Another of Nicky's great images

Later, in another part of the house, we relax after our endeavours over a glass or two of white wine, admiring the Far Eastern furniture and the suit of armour in the corner. The kitchen is being cleared ready for our reward: you get to eat what you have cooked!  Masterchef? Everyone’s been a winner today.  We do get briefly competitive when it comes to thinking up names for the day, but quickly agree that “I think I’ve Thai’d and gone to Heaven” sums it up pretty well. 

See here for a review of the Southern Indian Cooking class.

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