As birthday presents go, this year’s was a bit of a bobby dazzler.
I am notoriously difficult to buy for- if I like something I’ll buy it myself, which makes surprising me with a gift a bit of a challenge. Birthdays and Christmases roll around and my family groans. Inwardly, most of the time, which is kind, so to make it easier for everyone I used to request Virgin vouchers and sally into the sales, returning laden with bags of only slightly discounted produce hours later. Since the demise of said chain, the problem has become even thornier.
Although I have done a couple of Anand George cookery courses in past years, the whole thing has undergone a revamp. It’s no longer ‘just’ a demo, with AG talking you through the recipes as he cooks: now you ‘apron up’ and get to sweat over the hobs in the PP kitchen. What more could a gourmand (oh how I cringe at that term foodie) ask?
It’s a simple format: Chef demonstrates the dish on a freestanding workstation, expanding and explaining as he cooks. You are encouraged to ask questions as he goes, and as soon as he has finished there’s an opportunity to taste for yourself before you go to your places and you attempt the sane dish. There’s a printed recipe, of course, and your ingredients are plated up before you start so your prep is limited to slicing and dicing.
There were six in the group, and several members of staff on hand- plus Sue who runs the Pickled Peppers in Penarth, and has worked alongside George in this capacity for some years now. The staff circulate as you busy yourself, giving tips (I now have a method of dicing onions quite remarkable in its simplicity and effectiveness, but which had just never occurred to me) and answering questions. What you’re picking up here, of course, isn’t just a list of ingredients and a method to follow, but an insight into how a kitchen works and how and why these recipes work in these scaled-down portion sizes.
They were very adept at judging our individual levels of competence and confidence and helping out or hanging back as needed. You watch, you listen, then you do. It’s that simple and it means you get a real feel of the space- or lack of it- in a professional kitchen. Cramped would be an understatement- I’d wager there you have more free room to knock up a bacon sandwich in your domestic setup. It’s remarkable to think of 120-plus three course meals, plus side dishes and breads, emerging from this space on a Friday or a Saturday night.
First up was prawn moilee. A quick demonstration of how everything comes together and we were on our own.
A simple but remarkably effective dish, this: garlic, ginger and chilli julienned and softened in a pan with curry leaves, before turmeric and coconut milk combine to give the dish its distinctive colour and texture.
While all this is going on, another of the Purple Poppadom team prepares a series of snacks which punctuate the morning in my favourite way. George’s renowned Bombay Chat, with its silky yoghurt inside that fragile shell waiting to surprise the unsuspecting!
Saag khumb- mushrooms with spinach- was next. Onons and tomatoes are cooked down gently with cardamom and bay leaf, cumin, garlic and ginger. Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric add vivid colour to the pan before the mushrooms and spinach are added. Finished with butter and cream, it’s a subtly spiced and silky dish substantial enough for the absence of meat to be an issue.
An absolute revelation, this, and no surprise to learn that it’s one of their best-sellers both here at Purple Poppadom and at Pickled Peppers. This was the standout dish for me- and judging by the number of times our spoons bobbed back into ther pan for another taste (and another, and another…) it was a palpable hit with the others.
We finished with steamed rice, fragrant with cardamom and clove, to complete the course. Then into the restaurant to relax with a meal and a drink. It’s a busy spell in the kitchen, so now is the time to let the dishes arrive, a drink or two find its way to your hand, and to tuck in.
It’s clear that- despite the painstakingly measured and stipulated components- the main idea here is not slavish obedience to the recipe as written (various amendments or adjustments are mentioned as we go along), but to equip you with an understanding of what’s happening as you cook, and why- so you can perfect your cooking or adapt it to your own tastes, as you see fit. It struck me that scaling down restaurant-sized quantities of these dishes, to family dining, would be a time-consuming undertaking in itself, but having the ability to reproduce this as a meal in your domestic repertoire can’t be underestimated.
The day comes in at £140; five hours of learning, then a sumptuous PP meal. That, and you get to take your efforts home with you, along with an embossed ‘AG’ apron and a spiffy folder containing that day’s recipes, to impress the family. Money- and time- well spent: this may be my default birthday present from now on in, and recommended without reservation.
185a Cowbridge Road East
029 2022 0026
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.