School of Wok – Oriental Cookery Classes

Peter Morrell finds out that the mystery of oriental cooking is that there is no mystery at all

I am sure that you have had this feeling, you go out to a Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant and, as you enjoy the exotic mix of tastes, flavours and textures, wish that you could produce the same food at home. The reality is that you can, and with the help of a cookery class at School of Wok you will find that it is both quick and simple.

I recently went along to a School of Wok class at their kitchens in Covent Garden to find out how to produce south east Asian street food. It is one of numerous courses that they offer from how to use a wok to stir fry through Dim Sum preparation to a full day of buying ingredients in nearby China Town and creating a Chinese feast.

At the School there are two light and bright preparation areas and two kitchens, full equipped with the latest AEG induction hobs, ovens and grills. On my course there were five other delegates and we were fortunate to have one of the School’s founders Nev Leaning, as our tutor, a chef trained in more formal British cooking and now an oriental cooking expert.

Nev’s practical and methodical approach to the course meant that no-one was ever struggling or left behind. The first task was to learn how to use the Chinese cleaver which can be used to cut, scrape, crush and collect all the ingredients. Despite it being razor sharp we were taught how to control the blade with our knuckles without slicing our fingers.

It was time to prepare a marinade for chunks of cod fillet that would later be wrapped in Pandan leafs and fried. We ground up spices in a mortar and pestle, important to release their aromatic flavours, then added finely chopped lemon grass, ginger and a surprise ingredient, fresh tumeric root. In went our ground up paste with some thick coconut milk to a bowl of cod so that it would become infused with all the seasonings.

Next was the preparation of BBQ chicken wings, this time with a marinade of coconut milk, dried chilli and tamarind.

The real secret to the preparation is the way all the ingredients are cut. The humble spring onion had its green end chopped into rings, the middle stalk sliced diagonally  into ovals and the bulb ‘roll cut’ into thin strips. All of this is carefully explained so that you don’t get lost.

A couple of useful tips from Nev on how to get the skin off a garlic clove and how to core a red pepper were all part of the slicing and dicing required for our next two dishes. These were building a Vietnamese summer roll and using the wok to make Nasi Goreng, Indonesian fried rice.

Chopping at an end we all put our cleavers aside, fingers still intact, and were rewarded with a welcome glass of wine. As we sipped this we were taught how to soak a rice pancake in water, add some julienne peppers, carrot and spring onion, noodles, Chinese mushroom, mint, coriander and a dash of chilli sauce. A quick roll and we had a cigar shaped morsel which produced a firework display of flavours in the mouth.

Duly refreshed our origami skills went vertical as we knotted and plaited Pandan leaves into little packets before tucking in a chunk of marinated cod.

It was time to cook, the cod parcels were fried and then the ingredients for the Nasi Goreng stir fried. A neat tip from Nev was to make a ‘Wok Clock’, laying out the ingredients on a plate in the order in which they are used. While assistant Nguyet, a Vietnamese cookery expert, finished grilling the chicken wings we went back to the prep area, now an impromptu dining table to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

Absolutely delicious, this was restaurant quality food created with our own fair hands. Along the way we had learn all about preparation, ingredients, condiments and cooking techniques. We all felt very satisfied both with the food and our newly gained culinary skills.

School of Wok was founded by Nev and his business partner Jeremy Pang. They opening the doors of the kitchens in mid 2012 they have now trained more than 4000 people in the secrets of oriental cooking. Courses are run in the evening, lasting about three hours and there are both short and all day courses at the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoyed my course as did all of my fellow delegates and would now confidently have a dinner party at home to showcase my newly acquired oriental cooking arts. With Christmas coming up this would make an ideal gift for anyone who is interested in cooking and wants to extend their knowledge, you can buy Gift Vouchers here… You might also think about treating yourself to a course, Chinese New Year is coming up in February and you could celebrate by surprising your friends with some home-cooked Asian delicacies.

School of Wok
61 Chandos Place
London WC2N 4HG
020 7240 8818

Review date 14th November 2013