I talk food, write food and occasionally cook food from the comfort of my own kitchen but can I put my money where my mouth is and deliver a truly authentic French dining experience? Probably not, but there is no reason why I shouldn’t give it a go. Last weekend I was able to do just that at VIVE Cooking School, a beautiful space located at the heart of Saporium, Rosebery’s latest precinct that synthesises design and eating. VIVE Cooking School is a platform for passionate home cooks of all ages who are searching for a deeper connection with how they shop, source and share food. It’s actually even shaped like a glasshouse, allowing not just the passersby to peer right in, but further represents VIVE’s positioning to enhance the community dimension of freshly opened hub Saporium, being open to and utilising ingredients and skills from the artisan shops that surround it.
I was excited at the prospect of a cooking class, not least because this particular class was being helmed by celebrity chef Manu Feildel and culinary veteran Julien Vasseur. Manu needs no introduction, ex-restaurateur, cookbook author and co-host to a slew of Australia’s favourite food-based shows like My Kitchen Rules, Boys Weekend and Ready Steady Cook. Julien on the other hand has always been more behind the scenes but his achievements are no less laudable. He has under his belt, seven years of working in Switzerland’s top kitchens, years of being a private chef to a number of elite families in Los Angeles and was previously Head Chef of Sydney’s Williams-Sonoma’s cooking school.
The class kicks off with Manu and Julien at the head of the kitchen demonstrating the steps and techniques required to pull of today’s menu. Manu’s Chargrilled King Prawns with Garlic Butter was our starter while the Scallop Boudin (pronounced like the nation “Bhutan”) with Crab Bisque Sauce follows up as the main. The chefs were excellent at tag-teaming throughout the entire day, it was as though each step was part a synchronised dance that they’ve rehearsed before. It’s one thing to watch a cooking programme on screen, another beast entirely to see chefs in their comfort zone of the kitchen utilising knives, pots and pans like extensions of themselves.
Garlic butter for the prawns was made first as it needed time to firm up in the fridge. We then proceeded to the boudin, which for the uninformed, is a kind of seafood sausage made with white fish, egg whites, scallops, herbs and cream. The crowd loved Manu and it was great to see his showmanship extended to a live audience.
There were one too many innuendos when it comes to feeling the firmness of Manu’s “boudin” but the chefs took it all in stride and bounced back joke after joke while keeping the momentum strong. Before long, Manu and Julien were plating up some incredible food that smelled delicious, the bisque was looking particularly fine on that cold and rainy day.
After that spectacle was our turn. Unfortunately I was without a cooking partner and was left to fend for myself while the rest of the participants were mostly in mother-daughter pairs or couples. Manu and Julien were quick to notice this and frequently came past my station to help me along with this or that, partly to be helpful but also to ensure I didn’t end up burning this glasshouse down. Despite the casual playfulness of the setting, I felt a little like a contestant on Masterchef. For one, the utensils at the cooking school are state-of-the-art. The knives I was using to dice onion, garlic and ginger made my set at home look like sharpened hand axes carved from rocks of the Stone Age. The blenders used for the boudin paste are Smeg, as is the fridge and they come in a variety of pastels, to the envy of every home interior decorator.
Back to the food preparation. I made quick work of getting the crabs into the pot for the bisque, thankful that this isn’t the first time I’ve played around with blue swimmer crabs. I’ve resorted to ad hoc slicing and dicing of everything because I’m not the best at uniformity. My weak little arms were saved by Manu as he helped me whip the paste into a tight enough mixture to roll up. In between this preparation, we went back to retrieve our refrigerated garlic butter and proceed to butterfly some prawns to fry with it.
While each team was able to share their prawns and chat about their progression so far, I had no one to talk to and instead proceeded to gorge myself on the entire plate of the sweet, charred prawns.
Returning back to cook, I found that I excel in the kitchen with tasks I am familiar with and tasks that require determination and a lot of heart. Where I truly fail is anything that requires precision or finesse, I wonder if I never fully got the whole “motor skills thing” that you chisel as an adolescent [or inherit]. The trickiest part of the boudin for me was definitely getting the shape right and encasing it within the plastic wrap. I have to redo mine a couple of times because some are too fat or not turgid enough to withstand the poaching later on. Poaching was also another ballpark entirely, the water cannot be boiling or it will upset the proteins in the boudin paste and it will never set. The big reveal comes at the end when you have to plate the boudin by slicing the ends of the plastic wrap off and pulling it out. Two out of my four fail and resemble slugs that have been salted on while my third is wobbly but good enough to put on a plate.
I’m seriously proud of what I was able to accomplish on that day, albeit with the help of two extremely seasoned French chefs by my side the entire time. While my boudin does not look super, I must add that even a perfect boudin such as the one Manu made still kind of looks like an elongated Chinese fish ball. The taste however is incredible considering the only seasoning that went in were the chives and a bit of salt. My favourite component is still the bisque due to the incredible amount of flavour that came out of our crab. The crowd is enamoured with Jean-Luc and the rest of the VIVE team who did not hesitate to hack chunks of baguette bought from Grain that we used to dip in the bisque. With such a great cheer squad to back you, brand new kitchenware and inventive classes featuring dishes I can barely pronounce, I’d recommend checking out VIVE Cooking School to open your mind to new cuisines while sharpening your skills in the kitchen.
This article was originally posted on The AU Review