Back to Cooking School

It‘s all too easy to eat out (or order in) night after night, especially when you’re in a post-work haze. Of course, the cheap and tasty eats around town don’t help either— even we’re guilty of reaching for quick, and often unhealthy, options when hunger pangs strike. But there’s something to be said for a home cooked meal. Yes, it’s wholesome and more nutritious (supposedly anyway), but what really appeals, to us at least, is that you get to eat exactly what you want, when you want and done just the way you like it. To get you started, we put on our game faces and scouted around for some of the best cooking classes. Then we went hunting for places to stock up on fine ingredients, and a couple of spots at which to load up on kitchenware. Because when all’s said and done, food just tastes that much better when you cook it yourself. It might take more than one go for things to turn out right, but remember folks: Practice makes perfect.Cooking ClassesCoriander Leaf#02-03, 3A Merchant Court, Clarke Quay, River Valley Rd., 6732-3354.We’ll excuse you for thinking immediately of the fantastic restaurant that’s helmed by chef Samia Ahad. After all, most folks know Coriander Leaf for its delicious Greater Asia-influenced food; think South East Asian and even Middle Eastern, from the days when it was still housed in Gallery Hotel. The truth is, Samia, as we know her better, just loves to teach (all of the courses are taught by her). “What I try to do is inspire people to cook and it’s really not difficult. The key thing, is to keep it simple,” she says. That philosophy was clearly demonstrated when we attended South Asian-The Lighter Side (specially organized for the Breast Cancer Foundation), as most of the dishes didn’t have more than three or four steps to follow. If you’re a real fan of chef Ahad’s cooking, but can’t find the time to attend one of her classes, fret not. She even has a cookbook, Simply Samia, loaded with more recipes for you to try at home.Setup: The cooking studio is actually in the restaurant, and appears to be a private dining room from the outside. When you’re in the space with Samia, it feels more like you’re over at a friend’s place. It’s a refeshingly casual experience, participants huddled around her, while chatting and asking questions.Hands On? Sania’s classes are entirely demo only, so she does all the heavy lifting for you. Phew! But that means you can really pay attention to what she’s doing and take notes, if necessary.Class size: With a maximum of 10, you don’t run the risk of feeling overwhelmed (except with greed).Duration and cost: Our class ran from 10 in the morn till 1:30pm, so that works out to be about three and a half hours. But that includes Sania cooking up, from scratch, an impressive seven dishes, as well as everyone sitting down together at the dining table to tuck into the fruits of her labor (which was our favorite bit). This class was $130, with 50 percent of the proceeds being donated to the Breast Cancer Foundation, others go for $125 and up.Best for: Foodies who enjoy an intimate setting and don’t want to get their hands dirty. We’ve got our hearts set on East Meets West with Curtis Stone & Samia Ahad on Nov 6.Palate Sensations by Brandt#01-03 Chromos, 10 Biopolis Rd., 6478-9746.Palate Sensations has been open for five years and counting. During that time, they’ve established a loyal following. In fact, some of their students discovered a real love of the craft and have gone on to culinary schools in various parts of the world. When Managing Director Lynette Foo first set her heart on opening a cooking school, she was teaching classes herself in her own home. Later, she found a black and white house in which to base the school. More recently, she hired a resident pro Christopher Bell, and moved into new digs at Chromos at the end of September. Quite a world of change for this determined Aussie, who motivates us to dare to do something different with our lives. Excuse us for not diving right in, we’ll start with experiments in the kitchen.Setup: This large, well-designed space is a dream. We’re guessing having Brandt as a sponsor might have a little something to do with that. There’re heaps of equipment and fancy gadgetry all around, with prep tables on one end, while stovetop action happens in the center.Hands On? Only enthusiastic folks ready to participate need apply. Foo firmly believes in the value of hands on learning (as do we), so be prepared to make a mess. Despite his easygoing demeanor, executive chef Christopher Bell doesn’t let you get away with skiving, so don’t even think about it.Class size: This varies from class to class but the most they would take is 40 ready and willing cooks, although we’re told most classes do run with less. We reckon their private cooking sessions are a great way to spend some time with friends and family, while 80s music plays in the background and more than a few bottles of wine are sacrificed for a noble cause.Duration and cost: Classes usually run about three hours, and start from $88.Best for: The more serious, semi-professional home cook. We suggest taking The Restaurant Series course (from $200) with guest chef Francois Mermilliod of French establishment Absinthe. Alternatively, private lessons for the less skilled (like us), are far less intimidating and infinitely more casual and fun. That’s just us though.The Pantry 75 Loewen Rd., 6474-0441.Tucked away at Loewen Gardens is The Pantry, which only adds to the area’s laidback charm. Chef Jane Glascow and her team of merry helpers whip up the most scrumptious baked treats, from pastel-colored bow-wrapped cupcakes to towering slices of cake, all sold at the store up front. But if you creep round the back, you’ll see where all the magic happens. Jane is the quintessential mother hen, and made us feel instantly at ease despite our initial reservations. Her skilful and seemingly effortless demo makes it easy to believe you can do the same with ease. Of course, when it was our turn, we quickly realized there was more to kneading than we had thought. Fortunately, Jane takes great care in explaining what she’s doing and even jumps in when she sees fumbling, which for us, is ever so often. It feels more like you’re at a mate’s place and her mom has rounded up the kids for a baking session in the kitchen (that’s a good thing).Setup: The cooking studio is also their production area, which makes for a cozy space. We love the view of the lush green surrounds afforded by the floor to ceiling glass.Hands On? Most definitely. Jane wouldn’t have it any other way. And if the mini-chefs (kids) can do it, we adults can do it too, right?Class size: Smallish, with about six to 10 other participants. We found ourselves chatting with Jane, as well as our fellow baking novices.Duration and cost: Set aside at least two and a half hours for a rewarding session of baking with Jane (from $100). We’re drooling at the thought of her Christmas Goodies lesson in chocolate truffles, Scottish shortbread and Gingerbread snowmen. If you’re looking for savory cooking classes, they also offer Asian Cocktail Parties ($180) and a Christmas Master Class ($120).Best for: If you have a sweet tooth. Plus, you get to take your treats home (if they survive the journey). Our cinnamon and date scones made it, but just barely.Shermay’s Cooking School#01-76 Chip Bee Gardens, Blk. 43 Jalan Merah Saga, 6479-8442.One of the most established cookery schools on our little island, Shermay’s has a stable of celebrity chefs and cookbook authors who conduct classes here. A small retail store greets you upon entry, but the star is the studio (which is easily double the size of the shop). We were lucky and managed to score a seat at guest chef Elsa Van der Nest’s French Soups & Salads class. This Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and cookbook author taught a total of five dishes, two soups, two salads and a bonus veggie thrown in.Setup: The stove and prep area is on a raised platform, much like a stage, with five rows of eight chairs facing the front. There are also strategically-angled mirrors above the chef, so you can see what they’re doing, as well as two TV screens that show what’s going on. It’s reminiscent of a classroom environment, combined with elements that make it feel like you’re a guest at a live recording of an on-air cooking show.Hands On? Not even a smidgen, ours was a well orchestrated demonstration all the way. The closest you get to working your hands is when the food’s done and you have to shovel it into your mouth (no complaints here). There are a few classes offered that involve more active participation, so ask them about those if that’s what you’re into.Class size: We counted at least 40 chairs, so it’s definitely one of the bigger class sizes.Duration and cost: We started at three in the afternoon, with a short 15 minute break in between to have a taste of some of the dishes. By about 6:15pm, we were wrapped (although we may have been lingering around the rest of the food). This course was $99, but others run up to $149. Chef Van der Nest will be teaching some Christmas-themed ones through the month, while award winning chef Patrick Heuberger of Le Bistrot du Sommelier is slated for a Luxe French Christmas Special ($149).Best for: Home cooks who prefer to sit back and relax while still getting a culinary education.ToTT#01-01A Sime Darby Centre, 896 Dunearn Rd., 6219-7077.We’re absolutely thrilled about this spanking new (they aren’t even two weeks old yet) 36,000 sq. ft. space. It’s not all about the cooking studios here, we’ll tell you more about the other stuff later, but they’ve got their bases covered with both a demo and hands on one. So you get to decide whether you feel like sitting back and letting someone else do the work, or getting in on the action. With a rotation of guest chefs who specialize in their respective cuisines and indicated difficulty levels such as novice, enthusiast and semi-pro, the toughest part will be picking a class. For those of you who want to zip in and out, there’s even a Bake & Go corner where you can make your very own cookies in less than 30 minutes.Setup: We decided to be brave and go for a hands on, “enthusiast” level session with chef Damian D’Silva. The instructor’s desk is in the front of the class, with six work stations meant for two participants (think lab partners). So be smart and make sure you’re beside a hottie, or someone who looks like they have a vague sense of what they should be doing. Alternatively, you can bring your own partner if you’re not up for a round of cooking class Russian roulette.Hands On? Chef D’Silva insisted we call him Damian, and we were more than happy to oblige. His laidback approach made the atmosphere fun and upbeat, so we never felt uncomfortable in the slightest. Damian walks around the class telling us what to do and checked in often to see how everyone was doing. By the end of the lesson, we devoured all of our successful results, while most of our less gluttonous classmates packed theirs home.Class size: 10-12 (hands on); up to 68 (demo only).Duration and cost: We almost didn’t want those pleasurable three hours to end. That really speaks for itself, especially on a Saturday. Demo classes start from $68, while hands on go from $108. They even offer classes including Know Your Knives, Cut Above the Rest: Basic Knife Skills and Basic Plating Techniques. Other guest chefs include 2am: dessertbar’s Janice Wong, The Song of India’s Milind Sovani and Tiffin Club’s Iskander Latiff.Best for: Those who believe in sheer variety. Trust us, there’s no such thing as too much. That and you get to go shopping before or after, or both. nToys & SuchPantry Magic#01-80 Chip Bee Gardens, Blk. 43 Jalan Merah Saga, 6471-0566.There’s top notch cookware just waiting to be picked up and given a new home. The selection of ceramics, baking trays and cooking utensils suit the needs of home bakers and aspiring chefs alike. They also carry cookbooks and dedicated food magazines, if you’re looking for some inspiration.ToTT#01-01A Sime Darby Centre, 896 Dunearn Rd., 6219-7077.We talk about their cooking classes on the next page, but their other business line more than merits a mention. Sia Huat, an old haunt of ours, has taken the family business and ventured into retail. In such a massive space, you’ll find a bistro, a cookbook section and an overwhelming array of kitchen gadgetry and culinary products for cooking, baking and hosting (ToTT actually stands for tools of the trade). We’ve got our eye on The Naked Chef’s tools, such as the Flavor Shaker, Tilt & Mix bowls and All Purpose 3-in-1 Peeler with interchangeable blades.Specialist GrocersBunalun#01-70 Chip Bee Gardens, Blk. 43 Jalan Merah Saga, 6472-0870.This is a fantastic place for organic products with everything from teas and pastas, to spreads and dried fruits. Aside from wholewheat penne rigate ($5.90), they also carry lemon myrtle tubes ($8.30) and wattleseed spelt tubes ($8.90). To whip up breakfast in a flash, Bunalun also sells buckwheat or multi-grain pancake and waffle mix and cinnamon, vanilla or chocolate crepe mix (all $8.50). We think their homemade almond nut butter, citrus and passion fruit marmalade (both $14.80) or lime and blueberry conserve ($16.80) would be the perfect accompaniment. The Butcher#01-50 Chip Bee Gardens, Blk. 44 Jalan Merah Saga, 6472-0073.We’re carnivores, and fussy ones at that. Fortunately for us, so are they. Think choice cuts of beef, lamb, pork and chicken, with ready to cook options including Beef Wellington and Chicken Cordon Bleu. Don’t pass on their honey, mint and rosemary lamb sausages ($14.75) or beef and Guinness Stout ($15.75) ones. Did we neglect to mention that they’ll deliver right to your doorstep? Culina Dempsey#01-12 Blk. 8 Dempsey Hill, Dempsey Rd., 6474-7338.An excellent spot to do some light shopping and get some difficult to find products, they sell fresh vegetables and meats, cheeses, gourmet goods and a very decent wine selection. Go to town with Tetsuya’s series of products such as black truffle salsa ($22), truffle salt ($34.50) and Tasmanian pepper berries and honey vinegar ($17.50). Aside from the usual black or white truffle oil (both $50), herb or chili pepper Fleur de Sel ($15; $18) and walnut or hazelnut oil (both $17). If you’re into shrooms, they even have dry chanterelles ($17.50) and cepes ($12.50). Jones the Grocer#01-12 Blk. 9 Dempsey Hill, Dempsey Rd., 6476-1512. We loved them in Sydney, and our feelings haven’t changed since they landed on our shores. It’s all too easy to go overboard here, with an entire gamut of products to choose from. Their collection of oils, balsamic vinegars, pastas, grains and spices is remarkable, so go ready to spend loads of money. One of our favorite items is the truffle honey ($19.50). Drizzled lightly on a blue cheese, pear and walnut salad, it’s simply exquisite. Opt for one of their balsamic glazes, in flavors such as fig ($18.90), to add a professional-looking and tasting finishing touch to homemade dishes. SuperNature#01-21/23/27 Park House, 21 Orchard Boulevard, 6304-1338. What started out as a small grocer has grown to be one of the largest organic food stores in town. They offer a diverse assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and deli meats, so you can shop with ease knowing that you’re getting only things that are good for you. Too busy to pick up groceries? Just have them deliver some hormone-free chicken breast ($37.90), New Zealand eggs ($9.95) and a Farm Box full of fresh fruit and veg (from $70), and you’re set.