Quiz time – think of a country where there is little problem with obesity, bursting with incredible produce, with flavours that pack an almighty wallop and is a favourite for backpackers – any takers? Well, okay there are a few, but this time we turn eastwards towards Vietnam.
Many of you will know the four-word mantra for getting South-East Asian cuisine right – if you don’t however, it’s hot, sweet, sour, salty.
Putting it into practice is not as hard as it sounds, but to help me nail it I took a rickshaw down to Jamie’s Recipease shop in Brighton.
Set in a burgeoning foodie district – the cheese shop down the road towards Hove is incredible – this shop and café is dishing out beautiful grub from spot-on ingredients, all with a deli/artisan slant and lively atmosphere to boot.
But not only can you get your meals cooked for you by great chefs, you can also learn how to do it yourself in different cooking sessions based around a theme. I plumped for the Vietnamese street food course. I could have gone for knife skills, Japanese, curry, beef wellington, stuffed sea bass, a party….
For two hours the lovely and talented Eva Woolley talked her four students through their first entry into Vietnamese – me, Matthew and Elizabeth (a retired couple from Winchester) and James (a trainee chef from Haywards Heath).
All four of us at differing levels of skill in the kitchen, ranging from ninja to numpty, but all completely open to learning new skills, refreshing old ones and having a bit of a laugh at the same time.
While the café at the front of the shop was buzzing with lunchtime traffic (carpaccio salads and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs kept floating past me just out of reach) the rear of the premises was reserved for us. Really relaxed, comfortable and super-friendly.
Eva took control, firstly explaining our menu – beef broth, sticky pork meatballs and summer rolls.
She guided us through prep, explaining each ingredient as we went before unleashing us onto our own stations. I love chillies, really love them, so I turned up the heat with the old bird’s eyes by throwing as many as I could into my dipping sauce (used for both the summer rolls and the pork), but not without getting the balance right first.
Broth bubbled away with spices ready to be poured onto slivers of fillet beef, rice pancakes filled with the freshest flavours and the amazing honey soaked meatballs – then we ate, with a little glass of something.
Genuinely I really enjoyed it, initially I couldn’t work out how lessons can be pitched to my own skills and still cater for novices, but I left with a head full of new ideas and flavor combinations.
Check out the list of classes here“¦and get stuck in at one of the brilliant venues – Clapham, Brighton and soon-to-open Notting Hill.