Frankly, I can’t imagine anything worse than a cooking class but I suspected that if my sister and I didn’t organise something to keep us busy for at least part of the day we met in London, we would spend eight hours in a pub somewhere getting shit-faced.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
You’d be amazed at how difficult it is to find a mid-week cooking class in London that isn’t fully booked up, but eventually we found one at L’Atelier Des Chefs that suited our budget, and was also conveniently situated spitting distance to several great London pubs for our recovery afterwards.
The theme of our class was Sweet Treats – Petits Fours, which are delicate little cakes you eat after dinner and frankly not really my thing, but they appealed to my sister – that most hated of the female species who posts images on Instagram of perfect children’s birthday cakes she’s knocked up after a twelve hour day at work and putting three kids to bed – and her superior knowledge of cooking techniques.
Our mission was to make the following petits-fours in two hours, and did I mention that we were paying for the privilege of being kitchen hands?
Macaroons with Salted Butter Caramel
Mini Pistachio Financiers
Raspberry Ripple Marshmallow
Chocolate And Griottine Cherry Teardrops
So armed with my own in-depth knowledge of culinary terms, such as ‘blending’, ‘mixing’ and ‘spooning’ (or is that something else?), that I’ve picked up from Masterchef, I went into the class, fully prepared to fake it to make it.
The only problem was that our chef Chris wasn’t playing ball, spotted me quickly for the faker than I am and decided he was having none of my half-hearted, ‘I’m the client’ bullshit. And living up to the stereotype of grumpy-ass chef, the New Zealand version of Gordon Ramsay in fact, I soon realised that he actually expected us to a) work quite hard and b) have some real cooking experience under our belts.
I thought he’d be impressed when I asked if slathering a piece of acetate with chocolate was ‘tempering’, but when the rest of the smug class sniggered with embarrassment and my own sister put some physical distance between us, it quickly became evident that I’d given my amateur status away.
And yes, I probably was the only one in the kitchen who didn’t know how to switch on a food processor, use a piping bag, recognise gelatin or how to separate an egg. But it also became apparent very early on that my sister and I were the only ones who had an evolved sense of humor, too.
Yet we still managed to have a lot of fun, and to learn some cooking know-how that I’ve no doubt I’ll never use again.
Even I picked up some of the super-cheffing skills on display, which may distract me from Matt’s suits and increasing girth the next time I watch Masterchef.
I learned that chefs are human too, and if you prod them enough that steely outer casing will eventually crack; I learned that you have to snip the end off a disposable piping bag or nothing comes out and that when Chef asks for a volunteer, you don’t always need to be the one to step in, especially if you want to make new friends; I learned that removing cold chocolate from acetate is not for the impatient or heavy-handed and that it is not ethical to swap your broken cake with someone else’s in the fridge when no-one is looking.
And in regard to our recipes, I learned that there are so many complex secrets to making a decent macaroon that it’s much easier to buy them; that ‘financiers’ are pretty gross and that the teardrop looks super-impressive even when made by someone as clueless as me, but it needs to be refrigerated or it becomes slop in a cake box; and that raspberry ripple is created by the technique of half-blending.
I also had an out-of-body experience when I accidentally sucked at the nozzle of my icing bag that was full of salted butter caramel at the time.
Finally, I learned that using the images of your sister’s macaroons makes for far more stimulating food porn than my uneven equivalents. Feast your eyes on these beauties.