Learning about Southern Indian Cuisine:
Food at 52 Cookery School
Review and Recipe
Behind the unassuming façade of a building in Clerkenwell, lives a jewel in the crown of the cookery school world, with a warm, friendly atmosphere, eclectic décor, large kitchen and informative tuition, Food at 52 is one of the best cookery schools I have attended recently. As soon as you enter the cosy lounge upstairs, with its unusual and interesting bric-a-brac and large comfy sofas, you know you are in for a wonderful experience, and the Southern Indian cookery course I attended last week did not disappoint.
I was asked to go along to review an evening Sample Menu for Southern Indian cooking, by Jess and John of Food at 52, and as soon as I arrived, I was met with a glass of chilled wine and the opportunity to meet my fellow students upstairs. The cookery school is downstairs and is a large, bright and airy room which is dominated by a large table and the cooking ranges. Wooden dressers filled with ingredients are placed close to the table (for practicality) and copper pots and pans adorn the walls, whilst a large antique mirror has the menu written on it, a clever idea I thought!
The course I attended ran from 6:30 to 10:00 pm and was attended by eight of us, which was the perfect number for cooking around the large wooden and stone cookery school table. On entering the cookery school downstairs, we were then given the opportunity to sample some “appams”, which are little blini type pancakes made with coconut, along with a selection of chutneys and pickles. John Benbow, who is the brains behind Food at 52 and the cook-cum-tutor, then talked us through what Southern Indian cuisine is and what the core herbs and spices are used in this style of cuisine…..I was particularly fascinated with a new ingredient, “Tindoori”, (also called Gentleman’s Toes!) which are like little cornichons, but with a texture similar to okra.
The menu we were cooking, and eating for the evening was as follows:
Southern Indian Cookery Course
Half-day Sample Menu:
– daal dish with small Indian aubergines, tamarind and coconut
– vibrant beetroot curry with yogurt
Snake Bean Thoran
– spicy dry curry with crunchy lentils, green mango, mustard seeds and curry leaves
– lassi with turmeric, plantain and mango
– spicy savory doughnuts with fresh peas, onion and spinach
– little pancakes made from ground rice and coconut
Aubergine Chutney & Mango Chutney
– good with all the above!
Coffee / tea / chai
Once John had talked us through what we would be making, and had introduced us to unfamiliar herbs, spices and ingredients, we were split into two groups, with each group cooking 4 to 5 different recipes for the feast at the end of the evening. We each had the essentials, a name badge for “meet and greet”, an apron, a kitchen towel for essential hand wiping, wipe-clean recipe cards, a stool and a glass – which was regularly topped up with wine or refreshing cucumber water.
John is a natural teacher and Jess was a fabulous aide, with both of them on hand to help throughout the evening. The atmosphere was warm and unpretentious, and the ingredients we needed to use, as well as any kitchen tools were all to hand. We all took turns to chop, cut, slice, dice and sauté in our groups and by 8:30 we were just about done, and were asked to “retire to the lounge” with wine, whilst some of our prepared dishes were “finished off”, the table was set and the candles lighted.
On returning to the cookery school kitchen, we were met with a long table ablaze with candles and our places set for dinner, with all of our hard work set out on serving dishes in the middle of the table. The atmosphere was magical, new friendships had been made, a vegetarian Indian feast had been prepared and cooked by all of us and I felt I had learned new skills. I will list what I feel Food at 52’s strengths are below, in a more formal review, but it truly was an enjoyable experience and I would like to stay a big thanks to Jess and John for inviting me along. If you are looking for a new experience, and want to learn how to cook different styles of cuisine, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with excellent tuition and in a unique environment, then look no further than Food at 52, as I was extremely impressed with the course I attended.
My bullet point review is below, along with a gallery of photos from the evening, but before I go, here is a photo of the Class of October 15th 2013 with a BIG thanks to Tina for treating me to a taxi back to St Pancras! I am also delighted to be able to share one of the recipes with you, with kind permission of Food at 52, for my favourite dish of the evening, the little savoury doughnuts called Spinach Vadai – they were just amazing! Karen
Lavender and Lovage Review for Food at 52
Southern Indian Cookery Course (Evening)
Location: Handy to access and it only took me 15 minutes to walk to the school from Old Street tube station.
Course content: Excellent, a diverse and interesting range of recipes, with different cooking and preparation techniques. It seemed to be very representative of South India too.
Staff: The staff really make and enhance what Food at 52 is all about – Jess was welcoming, friendly and helpful whilst John knew his stuff and was authoritative about the recipes we prepared, as well as being a patient tutor when we needed help.
The School: The actual school itself is amazing – warm and welcoming with an eclectic mix of furniture, décor and furnishings, whilst retaining that essential element of professionalism and kitchen hygiene. The cooking area was large and airy with good lighting and the large table accommodated us all with ease.
Hospitality: The hospitality was excellent, again, it is the staff that make this such a wonderful cookery school, with refreshments on hand from start to finish. There was a secure cloak room where coats and bags could be left and the main door was locked throughout the evening for extra security.
Price: I did not pay for my course, but having attended the course and having looked at the costs for other courses, pricing is fair and competitive, with most full day courses coming in at £135 per person and most half day courses costing £115 per person. This represents great value for the level of tution, refreshments and the ingredients for all of the dishes that are cooked and then eaten.
Follow Up: We were all emailed the course menu, notes and recipes a few days after the course, which was so handy as we did not have to stop to make notes during the evening.
Overall mark (out of 5): 5
Interesting, professional cookery classes in a warm and friendly atmosphere with excellent tuition and unique surroundings – a jewel in the cookery school’s crown.
(Courtesy of Food at 52)
1 Cup of washed urad dal
2 cups water
1 teaspoon of asafetida powder
4 green chillies
1 teaspoon of salt
Couple handfuls of chopped spinach
1 large onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons of green peas
1 bunch of coriander chopped
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Soak the dal for at least 2 hours, or even over night, in plenty of water, after which drain well and place in a blender/grinder. Add the asafetida, green chillies and salt. Blend well into a thick batter adding a little water if necessary.
Transfer to a mixing bowl and add chopped onion, spinach, coriander and peas. Mix well.
With floured hands, form a ball of batter in your palm and poke a finger through the middle to form a hole.
Drop into hot vegetable oil ( 200oC) and deep fry until golden, approx 5 minutes.
Disclaimer: I was asked to attend a Southern Indian Cookery course for free by Food at 52; all opinions and views are my own and I was not asked or required to write a review, but I felt my readers would enjoy reading about my Food at 52 experiences.
Karen S Burns-Booth