Johannesburg - Apart from the fact that they all are foods full of artery-clogging and waist-expanding awesomeness, what do Pavlova with blueberry coulis, hollandaise sauce and chicken and leek pie have in common?
The answer is that they are now within the culinary repertoires of two of the most unlikely wannabe chefs this side of the Equator.
I saw the ad for Angela Day’s Cook Like A Chef programme (www.angeladay.co.za) and signed up.
The course is over four weeks, every Monday, and is run by Paul and Julie Gerntholtz. Between them they have 50 years’ experience in some of the best kitchens in the land, including the now-shut Gatriles, which was justifiably famous for its duck and cherry pie, and Casalinga (which is still one of my favourite eat out spots in Joburg).
Paul is the executive chef at Eat Bistro in the L’Corro Shopping Centre, Northcliff.
Other men go drinking with their buddies but not me, at least not often. I coerced my mate Dave into joining me on the most unmanly boys’ night out yet recorded.
Lesson one started off with Paul telling us that the main difference between what you eat in a restaurant and what you tend to consume at home is that restaurants pay attention to their sauces and us plebs don’t. Fair enough – packet sauce won’t cut it then.
So we started off learning how to make the basics – a roux, a mayonnaise and a hollandaise.
We were then given meals to cook using these techniques and, with Paul and Julie clucking around us like mother hens and responding with patience to our plaintive cries for help, we embarked on our little adventure.
Dave and I made rare roast fillet of beef with a hollandaise sauce accompanied by steamed asparagus. It was delicious.
Everybody gets to make something different and at the end of the evening the food is laid out on a table and everyone shares the meal.
In week two, we learnt about making stocks and demi-glace – and used our newfound skills to make a crazily complex but tasty chicken dish with a name that still escapes me. Afterwards we ate… and ate… and ate.
By the time week three came along I had learnt my lesson and didn’t eat before getting there – a good thing because it was the turn for puddings and we were shown how to make meringues and mousses.
We were allocated the rolled Pavlova which was made with walnuts, fresh chopped strawberries and a blueberry coulis. Again, we feasted and, because of the sugar rush, left on a high. I don’t know about everybody else, but I didn’t sleep after my dinner of eight different desserts.
During the final lesson, we were all far more confident and approached pastries and breads with a misguided sense of our own abilities. I was very glad to get to cook the pie – putting a puff pastry lid on top of a pie is significantly simpler than making Danishes and croissants from scratch.
Asked what it is like for a chef to try to teach enthusiastic amateurs how to cook, Paul says that “people who are eager to learn are easy to teach”. However, “the theory is more difficult to teach. I can’t just tell them to do it this way ‘because I say so’ “.
And for his final tip on what it takes to be a good home cook, Paul says if you “read the recipe from start to finish, identify and assemble the ingredients and follow the recipe step by step you won’t go wrong”. Julie’s advice is simply to taste before you serve and cook with love.
Was the course worth the time and the money? To me, yes. I had a lot of fun, learnt an enormous amount and, most importantly, gained the confidence to try new things in the kitchen.
Having only recently started cooking, I was at a stage where I was a fairly good, if basic, cook, but I was too nervous to try the complicated side of my new hobby. Now I happily make my own mayo, mix up flavours and even have a go at complex puddings. I’ll leave the pastries to the bakeries, though.
The course costs R1 360 for the four lessons which, for a few glasses of okay wine, a good meal and about three hours of hands-on tutelage, is a damn good deal.
Here are some of Paul and Julie’s favourite recipes:
JULIE’S LEMON CURD PAVLOVA
6 egg whites
360ml castor sugar
5ml orange blossom essence
250g lemon curd, home-made or bought
250ml mascarpone cheese
a selection of citrus fruit segments
Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar 15ml at a time, beating well after each addition.
With the last measure of sugar, add the cornflour, vinegar and essence.
Beat for a few minutes more until the meringue mixture is thick and glossy.
Spread the meringue mixture on a greased and lined baking sheet, making an indentation in the middle for the fruit.
Bake at 100°C for three hours or until cooked and dried out.
TOPPING: Combine the lemon curd and mascarpone and spread over the Pavlova. Top with fruit segments and serve.
PAUL’S DEBONED CHICKEN WITH SPINACH
4 chicken breasts, skinned
salt and pepper to taste
300g packet of spinach
1 whole chicken, deboned
100g ricotta cheese, crumbled
20ml olive oil
Finely dice the chicken breasts, adding salt and pepper.
Blanch the spinach and refresh in cold water. Drain
Lay the whole chicken, skin-side down on your work surface and layer with spinach, diced chicken breast and ricotta cheese.
Roll up the chicken and truss with string.
Sprinkle with olive oil and season well.
Roast in the oven at 200°C until golden brown, about an hour. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes.
Remove string and slice. Serve with vegetables of your choice.
PAUL’S LAMB CHOPS WITH COURGETTE RÖSTI
8 lamb chops
45ml lemon juice
15ml rosemary leaves
5ml chopped garlic
salt and pepper
6 courgettes, grated and drained
2 potatoes, grated
1 onion, thinly sliced
olive oil for frying
Put the chops into a rectangular dish. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, garlic and seasoning. Pour over the chops and leave to marinate for about an hour.
Remove the chops from the marinade and cook on a griddle pan until done to your liking. Serve with the courgette rösti.
COURGETTE RÖSTI: Combine the eggs and flour and mix until smooth. Add the grated and sliced vegetables with some seasoning and mix.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add spoonfuls of the mixture a few at a time. Spread and flatten the mixture and cook until golden brown on one side, then flip over and cook on the other side.
Drain on paper towel and serve with the chops.
JULIE’S PEAR AND HALOUMI SALAD
30ml lime juice
60ml olive oil
10ml wholegrain mustard
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
250g haloumi cheese
flour for dusting
1 pillow packet of mixed lettuce
2 pears, cored and sliced
2 apples, cored and sliced
4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, cut into julienne strips
100g pecan nuts, toasted
DRESSING: Combine all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well to mix.
SALAD: Slice the haloumi cheese and dust with flour. Fry in olive oil until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel.
Put the lettuce on to the base of a serving dish. Add the pears, apples, radishes and carrot.
Add the cheese and sprinkle over the nuts. Pour over the dressing and serve immediately. - The Star