Frank Camorra at Sydney Seafood School

Have you ever looked at the classes at Sydney Seafood School? Seriously, I want to do them all, but the bank says I need to space them out. The very second I saw Frank Camorra was doing a class though, I booked. I didn’t even bother to see if anyone wanted to come with me, or ask the bank, I was going.

Frank Camorra is a Spanish born, Australian raised legend. You may start to screw your nose up but to me, he is a legend. My first visit to Movida this year had me swooning over the place. He just gets it so right.

I was first to arrive to the class, maybe 15-20 minutes early, I wanted to get a good seat you see. The doors to the school don’t open until 10 minutes before the class, so I wandered the halls of the downstairs fishmarket.

When the doors finally opened I was, of course, first through with a seat in the front row waiting. The classroom feels small and intimate. All the seats are tiered so no one really misses out on anything. Large screens giving a birds eye view of the demonstration bench also are key to spotting anything Frank does. Class notes and a copy of the recipes demonstrated were  on each seat for us.

Frank looked a bit nervous but actually he came across as a very humble and gentle giant. For his first time at Sydney Seafood School he held the class in his hands. After he demonstrated a few dishes with the help of the school staff, it was up to us to get into the kitchen and have a go at recreating them. Frank had chosen dishes that, I think,  any average cook could manage.

The kitchen area is impressive. The work stations are designed with one oven and one induction cooktop. Today each station had 4-5 people working at each so we had some juggling to do to get all the dishes made with only a few hot plates. We had four dishes, that we divided between us, to do. I didn’t get the hang of the induction tops at all, luckily the staff were constantly on hand to help us out.

Frank also circulated amongst the workstations, willing to help out, answer any questions, or just have a chat. Our table of girls got him talking and he certainly wasn’t keeping any secrets. Frank is looking for a location to open a MoVida in Sydney!!!  The day before he had spent the day investigating locations around Sydney. He even asked our opinion. Heading four restaurants in Melbourne already he thought it was time to come north. Come Frank!!! We are waiting!

OK now back to the task at hand. The dishes were easy and quick to prepare. All the ingredients had been prepared and measured by the staff which made it even quicker. I chose the mussels escabeche to make. I love the intense vinegar flavour of a escabeche.

Mejillones en Escabeche (Marinated Mussels)

Pulpo a la Gallega (Octopus Galician style)

Arroz Sencillo (Easy Rice)

Vieiras con Vino y Migas (Scallops baked in their shells with white wine and breadcrumbs)

After we had danced around each other, whipping up Franks dishes, we carried then into the dining room. Each work station had its own allocated table. It is an impressive space for a cooking school.

The lighting was intriguing and quite fitting, as old fishing nets filled with light bulbs.

Wine was provided with our meal along with takeaway containers for the inevitable left overs. MoVida cookbooks were also for sale. I had Rustica but, of course, now I wanted the original MoVida too. During Frank’s demonstration he had been asked to show us how to devein a prawn, referring to it as the poo shoot. It gave me such a chuckle I had to have it as a momento.

A Cooking Course in Tuscany

There was no way I was going to Tuscany for a week without making time for a cooking course. I must admit I didn’t do any research but my travelling companion, Ms L, had picked up a flyer at Books For Cooks, for a Tuscan cooking school at Villa Pandolfini and we went with it.

Courgette Flowers

As avid amateur cooks we decided to go for the advanced cooking course. We had cooked alot of Italian before and were keen to get some top tips how to improve and learn some new techniques. We were seemingly slightly early to arrive. The was no one to greet us so we sat in the sun. The chef for the day then arrived with bags of food he had just bought from the market for our lessons. The day course started leisurely at 10am, it was Italy after all, and finished promptly at 3pm. We did make alot of dishes in that time.

Courgette Risotto (including the flowers)

All the dishes were made as a combined group effort with alot of input from the chef. There were 7 of us in the class on this occasion. I got excited when I saw the courgette flowers come out. I thought we might be stuffing them with a some great cheeses and frying them in a light crispy batter. They were chopped up and added to the risotto, lost in the pot of rice. I think we all got a courgette or onion to chop for this and a few of us did some stove top risotto stirring. Oh yeah, one of the girls grated the parmesan and I helped plate up before sitting down to eat.

Fettunta

One of the best dishes of the day was the simplest. It was one we recreated back at the Tuscan Farmhouse too.  You may have found when you visited Tuscany that the local bread is a little flavourless and becomes hard very quickly. This is typical Tuscan bread made without salt. It is a style that dates back to the 12th Century when the Pisans were a strong maritime power and controlled the import and sale of salt. In order to show power over the Florentines and increase revenue they increased salt prices. Tuscans of the time decided not to pay their high prices for it, so they made their bread without it.

This is the perfect thing to do with it, it’s called Fettunta. Toast it, rub it with the cut side of a clove of garlic, drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt, add a glass of red and your set.

Parmesan with Balsamic Reduction

The next dish I was not so keen on. It seemed wrong to me to put that sticky balsamic all over such beautiful Parmesan but the flavours did balance. The sweet balsamic against the salty Parmesan, not something I will be repeating though.

Veal Involtini

So after that little interlude we were back to it. Veal involtini was the next dish we prepared. We all had one veal to pound out thinly and roll with proscutto, sage, spinach, and ricotta. They were then cooked stove top and set aside.

Leek Flan

The chef then demonstrated a leek flan with Ms L assisting in the egg cracking process. At times she looked like she could have been running the class! The flan did look appetising with that golden top, when brought out of the oven.

Making Pasta

Ms L kneading her pasta dough

Making pasta was something we had hoped we would do. Both of us had made pasta before but we were hoping to learn some new shapes or techniques to perfect the pasta. We all made our base egg pasta dough and then waited in turn to machine roll it our ready to fill with our spinach and ricotta mix the chef had just prepared. There wasn’t much supervision at this stage as the chef was assembling and finishing off other dishes so we could sit down and eat.

Ms L making her spinach and ricotta ravioli.

As a result some of out pastry was rolled out thick and some too thin making it unpleasant to eat once cooked. I guess that’s all part of a cooking course.

Veal Involtini, Rosemary Potatoes and Leek Flan

We also made some rosemary baked potatoes to go with the finishing meal. It does all look a bit pale but it tasted lovely, except the veal which was very over cooked and tough to chew. The cheese that exudes from the involtini also had that curdled look.

Ricotta Cake

Our dessert was a simple ricotta cake with pine nuts and mixed peel. It was made mostly by the chef.

The course included the apron we wore for the day and a small paperback book of Tuscan recipes used at the school. I did enjoy the day but it was not what I expected at all, keeping in mind that this was advertised as an advanced Tuscan cooking course (it has since been renamed an Italian Immersion). It is definitely geared toward the tourist wanting to do an Italian cooking course to round off the Italian holiday experience.

The 5 hour course cost €190.

Rick Stein’s Seafood School, Padstow

Quite a while ago now I made a weekend trip to Padstow for the sole purpose of spending a day at Rick Stein’s Seafood School. It was one of those things I just decide to finally do after putting it off for too long. It was just as I was setting up my blog, I don’t know why I didn’t share it with you then. I keep coming back to the pictures and wondering why, so here they are.

From London it is a 3!⁄2 hr train ride, longer on a weekend, then a 1⁄2 hr cab ride to Padstow. To make the train ride more enjoyable on a Friday afternoon, my friend Ms L and I brought bubbly and cheese, so of course we were there in no time.

We chose to stay at the Garslade Guest House, one of the many guesthouses that line the streets of Padstow. We stayed in the new 2 bedroom Skye Cottage. It was lovely and clean, the bed was so comfortable and the bedding super soft. Our host also provides a kettle for tea,coffee, hot chocolate and chocolate wafers! I can highly recommend it.

The school started at 8am, an early start but that’s why we came. A short stroll from the cottage, past the Rick Stein Restaurant, and we were there. A receptionist welcomed us with a name badge, folder full of the days recipes and an apron (unfortunately we had to give that back at the end of the day).

While we waited for everyone to arrive we sat down to a coffee, a chat to other students and a drool over the schools cook book collection. Alot of people had been before, had come back with friends or had been given the day as a birthday/Christmas gift.

The school is very well set up, each student works in pairs at a work station just for the two of you. A large work bench, each with your own chopping board, a set of Global knives, a range of All Clad saucepans, a sink, gas stove top and oven. All the dishes you worked on in pairs but there was plenty to do to keep you both occupied so that you were not standing watching the other.

The day is run my one main teacher with another as an assistant wandering through the group as we worked, giving us tips, answering questions, providing our prepared ingredients, and making sure we weren’t going to cause ourselves any major knife wounds.

Our teacher today was Bill. He had worked as a private chef on yachts around the pacific and in Rick’s Restaurant but had been a teacher in the school for the last 3 years. You could tell this was someone who enjoyed their job, and was very good at it too. There was nothing too silly I couldn’t have asked.

Our first dish was seared scallops with an asian dressing. We learnt and practiced how to open the scallops and the importance of a really hot pan to sear each side. It was such a quick, impressive looking dish. They were very quickly engulfed at my bench.
We then went on to make calamari served with a greek salad. The squid demonstration was very interesting. A complete lesson on how to choose, clean and prepare the squid. We not only got taught about seafood preparation though. The greek salad involved fine chopping skills and even how to sharpen your knife with a whetstone. Talk about value for money. The stone was left in the middle of the room where you could go and practice your knife sharpening skills under Bill’s watchful eye.
Our third dish was red mullet spagettini. We were shown how to fillet the mullet in depth, the stuff I had really come to learn. I wanted to learn how to fillet round and flat fish, open scallops and oysters, find out the best way to kill and cook lobsters and crabs and for all the questions in my head, that went along with it to be answered. Yes, very unrealistic expectations in a day.
We sat at the table after each dish to eat it in a civilised manner, I don’t think we were suppose to though until lunch, but they didn’t seem to mind. They started pouring the wine at 11am too. And pour they did. I had been warned that my friends husband had come out in quite a happy state, and I did’t want to chop my finger off so I took it easy. At the start anyway.
I had never filleted or cooked John Dory and never made chowder for that matter, so I keenly watched the next dish being demonstrated, John Dory and mussel chowder. After Bill had finished each dish you were given the chance to taste it, so you knew what to aim for. But you had to get in quick!Wow chowder is much easier to make than I thought. I really gained confidence to be more experimental with seafood and the realisation that the preparation is not as hard as you think. It can actually be quite fun. The day was relaxed and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. You don’t have to be a masterchef or anything to attend, there were people from all skills levels having a go and having fun.
These dishes were not small servings either. They were all the size of what I would eat for a whole meal. The warning to pace ourselves was hard to follow through with though. I was hungry and everything tasted so good!
Our last dish of the day was a demonstrated goan lobster curry. So I got all my lobster questions answered. Didn’t get to prise open any oysters but you can’t do everything in a day, can you.

My goodness we were stuffed by the end, and a bit tipsy. The class finished just after 4pm as everyone gathered their dirty folders and wandered back into Padstow. The thought of diner was out of the question, a relaxing read of the Saturday papers and another quite drink in the pub was sounding perfect. That was it for the night, we were pooped.

I would  go back again in a flash. The day was superbly organised, the staff were very friendly and helpful.  I really felt like I got value for money (£185 for the Original Fish and Seafood day course) and I had fun. I know seafood comes to mind when you think of Rick Stein, and he does that very well, but the school also runs a range of different courses, (they were running a patisserie course the following day).
Use the course as an excuse for a getaway, or use a getaway as an excuse to do a Rick Stein course, whichever works for you, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
The next day before our train left for London we went on a stroll around the coastal paths. It was chilly but absolutely picturesque. There was just one more thing to do to complete the Padstow experience…..