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20 July 2015

food at fifty two.

a few weeks ago, on the hottest day of the year, mike and i went to a proper industry event. there, we met a ton of fabulous folk, none more fabulous that natasha and val of north london cooking school, food at 52. with pleasantries and business cards exchanged, and wine glasses filled, we went our separate ways, positive we would definitely check out the school when the heat and booze-filled weariness wore off. well, turns out we needn't have worried.

a few days later an email dropped into my inbox from natasha, inviting me down to experience one of the school's cooking classes for myself. i checked our their calendar, noted a vietnamese for beginners class coming up, and promptly booked myself in for the saturday before last. i was so excited to get my cook on, especially because vietnamese is one of those cuisines that has loads of alternatives for cooking with onion, so i was hoping to come away with some more new dishes...

john and val were our teachers for the day, and although neither are qualified chef's, they were both so eager to share their self-taught cooking techniques and adapted recipes with their classes. there were about nine of us there that day, and we were excited to get started once we learned what dishes we had to look forward to cooking together.

our first challenge was to prepare from scratch a caramelised pork belly dish that would be set aside slowly cook while we learned how to prepare the rest of our dishes; we would be eating this dish four hours later... *drool*! because of food allergies, i had teach john as my partner for this dish, so i mayyyybe had a slight advantage over my classmates... each cooking pair had a teeny tiny camping stove between them for easy table-top cooking too, which we all thought was pretty bad ass!

as well as some basic knife skills and cuts, we learned a lot of simple methods and ingredient substitutes for making easy sauces and marinades to make at home - this is what i was really counting on! within the first hour, this was already the best, most instructive and least *teachy* cooking class i'd had; i was loving it! val and john were both so laid back and helpful, and had no problems digging in and helping the class by getting their hands dirty when help was needed.

our next two dishes were fairly simple, albeit very fiddly; summer spring rolls, and a prawn and coconut broth. i've made summer rolls before so once again had a bit of an advantage, but never have i ever cooked with raw prawnies. prawnies with whole heads still attached. it was gross and awful and i never want to do that again. the broth was good, but not that good. the summer rolls and home made dipping sauce were incredible, and i've already made them since, as i have also done with...

the poached and pulled chicken salad. i have poached a chicken once before in a blogger event type sitch where they try and make you out to be the next nigella, and basically do all the work while you slowly pickle your insides and happily take the credit for the perfect apple tart tartin despite not actually having sliced one apple, so i was ~pretty sure i had no idea how to actually poach a chicken.

lucky for me, i paid attention while the demonstration/me actually doing it myself occurred, so i can now whole-heartedly say that i ~do know how to poach a chicken! i made this dish (sans salad because you don't make friends with salad) at a bbq over the weekend and it went down a treat! poaching is the absolute easiest way to keep all the flavours and juices in the chicken and does not dry it out at all. absolute dream cooking technique; level unlocked!

(fyi: you bring a pot of seasoned water to the boil, chuck the whole chicken breasts/thighs in and blast on high for four or five minutes, then simply turn the heat off and pop the lid on the pot. thirty minutes later, that chicken is ready for pulling; it will fall away from the bone with nothing more than a scratch with the fork. you're welcome)

we'd been cooking and drinking chilled wine for hours, and as the five-hour class drew to a close, we could smell the piece de resistance being prepared for us in the back kitchen; the pork belly was ready to serve. with some white rice lovingly cooked elsewhere for us (i actually ~suck at making rice and would have been there to watch them make this as no matter what recipe i follow, it always ends up sticky and gross), and some wilted greens and sesame appearing on the tables as if from nowhere, the room fell fairly silent as the group devoured the much-anticipated first-but-really-final dish.

in our small groups we finished our meals and downed our drinks, all slightly disappointed it was all over. each of the meals we'd prepared and eaten were easy and delicious, sure, but the absolute selling point of the day, and of the classes on offer at food at 52 is the totally relaxed and friendly atmosphere. i literally left that day having made friends with the couple to my right - sarah and lee (of ava's residential - there's your cheeky plug lee!), who i then left and went to the pub with for an hour or so before meeting some more friends for dinner. 

if that's how easy it is to make friends in london, then i'll be heading back for another of the classes. they're only just over a hundred quid per class - some up to five hours long, like mine, and each come fully stocked full of cooking ingredients for you to use, and a well-stocked wine fridge. so, considering the five course lunch i had, and numerous glasses of wine - not to mention the social element ~and the extensive after-care of recipes, amazon store recommendations and a shopping list of pantry items, i can't think of a better way to spend five hours or a hundred quid.

if cooking's not your thing and you'd like to make it, then i would 100% recommend this school.
and i will be back, you can mark my words. there are so many classes i want to try!

*thank you to food at 52 for having me for the day*

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