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Get Back to Cooking

Get Back to Cooking

Monday 30 August 2010

For the past fifteen years our TV screens have been literally awash with cookery programmes from the sublime to the ridiculous. We have had the Two Fat Ladies, doling out colonial style ‘receipts’ with Jennifer dipping her grotesquely painted finger nail in the bowl, more in the fashion of 1960’s cook Monica Sheridan than sultry hotpot Nigella Lawson. They at least were amusing, classy and nostalgic, on their motorbike and sidecar, whilst the Hairy Bikers just turn me off food never mind anything else! We had Ainsley camping it up with Percy Pepper and Suzy Salt, whilst Wozza was rarely off our screens as Darina Allen, school marm style, tweaked her specks and instructed us with devastating efficiency. Jamie Oliver progressed from cheeky chappy to fatherhood in front of our eyes, and revised British school menus, as Masterchef progressed from good amateur cooks during the Lloyd Grossman era to virtually professional amateurs under Michel Roux, Jnr and the Vegetable Man, Greg Wallace. Delia Smith turned to God and football but made a comeback to foodie TV whilst Keith Floyd packed his pots and pans for the Heavenly Kitchen, as did The River Café’s Rose Gray. Rick Stein, the thinking woman’s crumpet, merely packed his fish kettle and divorced his first wife, whilst the wholesome American Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, at her East Hampton base ‘oohs and aahs’ not only of her own meringues but of her middleaged cuddley curly haired “he’s so cute” husband Geoffrey. James Martin grew from competent TV chef on the shores of Brittany to Sleek Superchef Stardom on Saturday Kitchen, and Saturday Kitchen and the hellish, compulsive watch, Come Dine With Me, are the programmes du jour, and about to come to a home near you as TV3 take on the Irish version of the programme!

So, where does all this leave us all now that we have had to come a state where “dining in is the new dining out”? No matter how many sexy chefs have beamed out of our TV screens over the years telling us how wonderful their cooking is, and their fancy books are, the fact of the matter is the NATION CAN’T COOK! The spoiled generation of the Celtic Tiger years who avidly wanted to be like Nigella or Rachel, and bought cookery books to beat the band, in fact, when cooking or entertaining themselves, relied totally on fully pre-prepared oven ready joints with trimmings, convenience food, and cocktails! Its one thing throwing a lump of meat or a few prawns on a sizzling grill pan and serving them with a commercial hot chilli sauce, but ask them to bone out a leg of lamb, clean out a chicken, or prepare a simple Bechamel sauce or a good red wine reduction, and they would throw up or die of pure fright! It seems such a pity that Domestic Science Classes which imbued the basics of cooking into teenagers at school in earlier years were not compulsory all the way through. I still have the basic battered blue covered school cookery book “All in the Cooking” which has become an object of desire these days!! Look out for it in secondhand bookshops and online.

This is definitely the era of the Cookery Class which are suddenly more than just a night out and a bit of gas with the girls. New Cookery Schools have been opening up, and Restaurants too are not missing out on the chance of supplementing their incomes with cookery classes on quiet nights. Some schools cover the basics of cooking over an extended period, whilst more are offering just short bursts to cover entertaining, including a variety of ethnic cuisines, but it is important to get the very basic grounding first of all – then the world is your oyster!

I took myself off with a friend recently to Monty’s of Rathgar where Lina Gautam was hosting a Home Cooking Master Class on Nepalese cooking in the restaurant she and her husband Shiva run. Nepal is a landlocked strip of country bordered between India and by Tibet and China on the North, consequently their food is influenced by all of these countries. Lina, who was born and raised in Kathmandu, started the class by showing us photos of the food markets there and gave us a little taste of what life was like. “Many people in Nepal say they are vegetarian basically because meat is so expensive, and such a treat, that they don’t want to admit to the fact that they can’t afford it.” She explained in a very frank way. If you like Indian food, you will love it, but there are differences in spicing and cooking. Lina and Shiva say Nepalese food is lighter because they don’t use cream. They do use a lot of oil though! Lina gave us a good run down of their spices, which they grind daily, and how to make their Plain Masala spice mix - equal quantities of coriander and cumin, and their Garam Masala mix – 2 tbs of green cardamom, 1 tbs of black cardamom, 1 tbs of cloves, 1 tbs of black peppercorns, 2 tbs of cinnamon powder . Put the first four items in a preheated oven on a tray for 5 minues. Let the mixture cool down, and grind into a powder in a coffee grinder, add the cinnamon powder, and store in a jar for 3-4 months. A waiter poured us all a nice glass of wine as Lina then demonstrated how to cook 3 dishes, the first being Nepali Noodles. It was a great dish because it had so many vegetables and health giving spices, it was not only tasty, but could only do you good. Another good point about Nepalese cooking is that nothing is too precise, if you don’t have something don’t worry, and use up all the vegetables you have, is Lina’s philosophy. Very practical, I liked that. Aromas of ginger and lovage seeds, turmeric, chillies and mustard, wafted around as we all got more matey with our fellow ‘students’ thanks to the glass of wine! Lina then moved on to cook a classic Nepalese Ledo Bedo chicken curry – pointing out that one of the most important things with chicken curry is to brown it well in mustard or vegetable oil, which stops the chicken going soft and soggy! Now, that’s a good tip. We had a second glass of wine as we tasted a smigeon of that! We were best pals with our neighbours after that. Next was Lina’s Allo Dum – spicy potatoes. We all thought that was it when it came to tasting them but, not at all, we were in fact in for a lovely three course dinner with wine - our neighbours are now our new best friends! At €55 for the class, dinner and wine, it was cracking value. Check with Shiva and Lina as to their other classes both in Montys of Rathgar and Temple Bar.

At Donnybrook Fair in Dublin, they have a full schedule of interesting hands on and demo classes from €35 from including Food From Spain, One Pot Meals, Hands on Sushi. If you want your teenagers to be culinary wise, they also run a week long Transition Year Cookery course at €250 for five mornings plus an Adult Hands on Cookery 4 week course over 4 evenings at €270. They also have visiting celebrity chefs including Rachel Allen and the amazing Ross Lewis of Chapter One, which continues to sweep all the Foodie Awards for 2010. Now that would be €100 well spent!

The Italian School of Cooking, part of the Flavour of Italy Group, who used to be in Rathgar, and also have Pinocchio Italian restaurant in Ranelagh, are now in new state of the art premises in City Link Business Park on the old Naas Road. They have day classes on Saturdays, running fortnighty, up to Christmas covering everything from home made pizza and focaccia, right through to cooking a classic Italian Christmas Dinner. They will also organise special classes, culinary team building and team challenge activites for corporate groups. Check it out on

Kevin Dundon’s Dunbrody House Cookery School in Co. Wexford, has an intensive Autumn programme of 1 and 2 day non-residential courses at €165 and €315 respectively covering everything you could want from Thai Cuisine to Quick Suppers, Easy Entertaining to Seafood & Shellfish, Great Family Food to Vegetarian Cuisine, Dinner Parties for Six to Divine Desserts. Price includes light lunch.

Lynda Booth’s Dublin Cookery School in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, has a very wide range of courses including visits by guest chefs such as Atul Kochar and Sunil Ghai. They have courses for many durations, an evening, a day, a week, a month, from €70. Courses include Cooking for Friends Asian Style, Easy Autumn Entertaining, Man in the Kitchen, Cupcake Night, Canapes & Tapas, Cooking for Christmas, and so on. On the 18th September they have guest chef Matthew Albert, Head Chef, of Nahm the only Michelin starred Thai restaurant in the U.K. Another interesting Demo Masterclass is by Gerard Coleman of L’Artisan du Chocolate on 6th November.

The Cook’s Academy in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, has courses Demo and Hands On from One Month Certificate Courses to 1 Day or evening with tantalising subjects from Discover Morocco to Sushi, Perfect Pastries and Desserts to Chinese and Fast One Pot Cookery. Prices start at €50 for demo and €70 for hands on. A great fun evening is their Friday Night Supper Clubs at €70 where you can learn some great recipes for entertaining, sit down and eat the food you have cooked and have a few glasses of wine after your efforts. They also do Saturday and Sunday workshops.

In Co. Kildare, the new Village at Lyons Cookery School with Clodagh McKenna has courses on Kids Lunch Box, Soups and Breads, Italian Family Table, Easy Family Suppers, 10 Ways to Roast a Chicken and even a Supper Club With Love From Paris. Prices start at €70.

At Cuffesgrange, County Kilkenny, at Ryeland House Cookery School, Anne Neary has morning and evening classes from €70 per session including an Absolute Beginners Class for students, Autumnal Lunches and Suppers, Fabulous Fish and has also introduced for the first time a 5 Day Master Class in November.


Down in Killarney, Co. Kerry, Chef Mark Doe’s Just Cooking Cookery Courses includes a 6 week basic cookery course, one session per week, at €200 which will show you the basics of cooking, baking, knife handling, tricks of the trade and how to produce delicious meals without fuss. They also of course do Italian and Thai Cookery, Fish and Entertaining, plus Student Cookery for all those fledglings about to leave home for College – at €35 a good investment.

It should be remembered too that many of the IT Colleges around the country do cookery courses which are very reasonably priced. In Newpark Night School in Blackrock they run courses on Basic Cookery, Asian and Indian Cookery, as well as Gourmet Evening at Home from €135.

Now is the time to enrol and get cooking!!