“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand” – Confucius
I learned to cook simply because I’m greedy; when you’re always daydreaming about food, it’s inevitable that you’ll pick up a thing or two in the kitchen in order to feed that hunger.
My greed extends to an insatiable appetite for recipes – I have shelves of cookbooks, a crazy collection of clippings from newspapers and magazines, dozens of pages bookmarked online and I compulsively consume food programmes and writing.
But while a keen interest, a collection of recipes and lots of trial and error will get you so far, close guidance from an experienced professional is the best way to improve your cooking, particularly specific techniques like knife skills.
The Underground Cookery School offers just that.
All levels are welcome at the school based near Old St, which hosts fun cookery challenges, corporate team building exercises and hen/stag parties.
We learnt how to fillet whole sea bream – a flexible knife, steady hand and tweezers are essential.
Moving on to rump of lamb, which we set to work on to separate and clean the juicy flesh from the bones, sinew and connective tissue until we were left with a handsome, tidy cut.
Matt Kemp, the founder at the Underground Cookery School, has worked at some of London’s top restaurants like The River Cafe, The Ivy and Pont De La Tour, but considers himself self-taught.
Matt has a strong opinion that cake is only appropriate for tea time. Pudding, he believes, should be something decadent like the flourless chocolate torte he first learnt to make at the River Cafe (it’s been on the menu there for years).
I got stuck in dusting the pan with cocoa powder.
There are always a few trained chefs around supervising each station and making sure nobody botches the meal you’re all looking forward to enjoying later.
Matt and the Underground Cookery School’s motto is “everything can be salvaged” and I dare say the hardworking teachers have quite a few tricks up their sleeves to rescue any class dunces.
Sure enough, everything we ate was practically faultless. But then we would say that having had a part in its creation…
A fun evening, real education and a delicious meal – what more can you ask for? Recipes perhaps? Very well…
1 Sea Bass, filleted
6 Asparagus spears, stemmed and with the bottoms peeled
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon of mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
a handful of fresh dill, chopped
Vegetable Oil for cooking
1. Run a knife in the opposite direction to the scales in order to remove them. Slice out the belly and remove the guts, wash thoroughly. To bone out the sea bass run a flexible knife from the tail of the fish to its head; cut around the gill and remove the fillet. Take out the pin bones in the fillet using tweezers.
2. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for about 2 minutes; rinse with cold water to stop cooking.
3. For the dressing, add the olive oil, lemon, mustard, dill, seasoning and vinegar to a bowl; mix until emulsified.
4. Place the Fillets in a hot pan with a little vegetable oil. Cook for about 90 seconds or until the edges turn white and then flip over; cook for another minute. Pat dry with kitchen roll.
5. Lay the asparagus in the middle of the plate; add the sea bass and then dress
Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 C/Gas 4.
Place the bowl on top of a simmering saucepan of water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl.
Melt the butter and chocolate and stir to combine to a rich velvety smoothness. Take off the heat and set aside.
Separate the Eggs. Now whisk the whites, until stiff peaks and set aside.
Grease the tin with the butter and coat with sugar to stop the cake sticking to the tin.
In yet another bowl add the yolks and then sugar, and whisk until thick and creamy (about 2 minutes).
Add chocolate mixture and combine. Now using a stainless steel spoon, fold in the egg whites and empty the contents into the tin.This torte can take up to 30 mins to bake.
It’s ready when you stick a skewer in the middle and it comes out clean and clear.
The Underground Cookery School
201/203 City Road, London EC1V 1JN
I was invited to experience the Underground Cookery School as their guest – but would happily return soon as a paying punter. Photos kindly provided by the Underground Cookery School.