Food at 52 isn’t your average cookery school. At one point you’re learning techniques and cooking beautiful dishes, and at another, you’re in the midst of a dinner party with a group of your new best friends, pouring wine, breaking bread and laughing like you’ve known each other for years…not hours.
When I cook, I tend to stick to Italian, French and English recipes, with the odd Thai curry thrown in. Determined to learn something new, I jumped on the tapas bandwagon and went for the Food at 52 Spanish course, run by owner and head chef John Benbow.
I arrived promptly at 6.30pm and was whisked downstairs into what felt like the perfect country kitchen, complete with an enormous long wooden table, handcrafted by John. Spying another solo student, I quickly stood next to the lovely Vanessa, poured myself a glass of cold white wine and waited for the fun to begin.
After introductions were made, the lovely John ran us through the menu, which included everything from fish and meat to salads and chocolate. John explained that we would be stopping mid way for food, which was music to our ears, legs and stomachs.
Divided into three teams of five, we started at the end, making Spanish Olive Chocolate Truffles. Olives and chocolate?! I had a similar reaction, but trust me, it works – just like salt or chilli, the bitterness of the olives makes a welcome contrast to the sweet chocolate.
Next up were more olives, this time stuffed with Manchego cheese, deep fried and served with a drizzle of honey. I still can’t believe the simplicity and effectiveness of this recipe, so I’ve pasted it at the end so you too can make these tasty morsels.
Before moving onto our mains, we created a colourful Amanida Salad from Catalana. John announced that salad building would be judged between teams, which didn’t worry me as I knew my new friends were more than up for the challenge.
As you can see, what we ended up with was a thing of beauty, which clearly won the virtual trophy, even though John felt too bad to admit it to the others.
Moving onto mains, we braised some chicken thighs, before popping each piece onto a bed of chopped green olives sautéed with onions, garlic and pepper, and leaving it to braise for around 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, we created a delicious salad of new potatoes, chorizo, paprika and cumin, whilst pan frying sea bass with capers and roasted red peppers.
The end results were fantastic, reminding me how easy it is to make mouthwatering meals with just a few simple ingredients.
We covered a lot of ground in four hours, which included regular breaks to eat, drink and be merry. It was a complete contrast to my intensive Leiths course last year, but that didn’t surprise or upset me in the slightest. Food at 52 is about learning to cook exciting recipes, whilst having a brilliant time with your fellow classmates that are also passionate about sharing food. I left feeling inspired, a little tipsy, very full and, most importantly, happy.
Fried Queen Olives with Manchego
- 200g pitted queen olives
- 50g Manchego cheese
- 2 tbls flour
- 1 large egg
- 4 tbls breadcrumbs
- Mild Spanish olive oil for frying
- A drizzle of honey
- Open the tin/jar of queen olives and drain the brine, taste and if too salty wash in cold water. Drain in a colander and pat dry
- Finely chop the manchego cheese until is resembles breadcrumbs; then mix the cheese with 1 teaspoon of the breadcrumbs
- Stuff the olives with the cheese and breadcrumb mixture using the back of a teaspoon
- Once the olives are stuffed, sprinkle them all over with flour. Whisk the egg and egg wash the olives making sure they are fully coated. Then do the same with the breadcrumbs and put to one sid.
- Heat oil (enough to cover the olives) in a small pan on a high temperature. Wait until the oil is hot (test by dropping an olive in and it should fry quickly in around 5 seconds). Once the oil is hot enough, fry in batchers of about 7 olives until golden. This should take less than 90 seconds
- Pat dry on kitchen paper. Put on a plate and drizzle with the honey. Serve!
Food at 52, 96 Central Street, London EC1V 8AJ (http://www.foodat52.co.uk/)