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Story by Barry Croucher

My birthday present from my wife this year was a day cooking with Gennaro Contaldo at the Caldesi cookery school in London. What a brilliant present!

I decided to arrive quite early for the class and I was pleasantly surprised to see Gennaro and about half the other students there already. Gennaro gave everyone a warm welcome and chatted with us whilst he was getting everything ready for the class. There was around twenty of us altogether, each had their own station with chopping board and knife while at the front was a large cooking area with two ultra modern hobs where Gennaro did most of his teaching. It was funny as he struggled a bit controlling the cookers which looked like something out of a Startrek movie! I have to say straightaway that Gennaro was a delight, warm and friendly and funny just like he is on the telly. His passion and enthusiasm for food, cooking and people is obvious from the moment you meet him.

The first dish he demonstrated was Osso bucco, preparing a mountain of veal shin while chatting about how delicious the dish is and suggesting variations using other meats. Dusting the pieces with flour and frying them in olive oil then deglazing with white wine – the aroma was fantastic! After frying off some vegetables and adding tomatoes, the trays of veal were finished off in the oven for a couple of hours.

Next up Gennaro decided on an unscheduled demonstration of his 5 minute tomato sauce. “It’s very quick to prepare” he said “how about we cook it even quicker, 3 minutes? How about 2 minutes? OK let’s go for 2 minutes – no that’s too long let’s cook it in one minute! OK, here we go!” We fried basil and crushed garlic were in very hot olive oil for just a few seconds, just to flavour the oil then chopped tomatoes added and boiled furiously but briefly. I timed him, start to finish the sauce took 30seconds! It was delicious served with a little bread and parmesan.

Next it was time to get our hands dirty making Chiacchiere which are a kind of sweet fried pasta biscuit. Gennaro demonstrated how to make various shapes from the pasta dough, then it was our turn. We were supplied with beautiful ingredients including big fragrant lumpy Italian lemons and the most beautiful rich yellow eggs that ensured the pasta looked beautiful! Once we’d formed the dough into shapes Gennaro fried them for us.

Knife skills were next on the list. Gennaro showed some chopping techniques and then he moved on to preparing a salad of radicchio, pear, chestnuts and gorgonzola followed by a gremolada which is a chopped herb condiment that is made of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest. He added this to the osso bucco. Finally he showed us a saffron risotto before we all sat down to eat everything that had been prepared – it was delicious! All the staff were friendly helpful and efficient, the venue was well equipped and the ingredients that were supplied were of the highest quality plus Gennaro is a really lovely bloke! Perfect birthday treat and a perfect Saturday all in all!

About the author: Barry Croucher is an active member of the forums on JamieOliver.com.

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