‘Bao’ To The Bun – A WhistleStop Global Street Food Extravaganza With The Brilliant John Fernandez At The Jericho Cookery School

The clocks went back last night and I was up at 05:30 on a Sunday morning, to be honest I was not sure what time it was, the excitement of attending another cookery school after such a long time was too much!

My last attempt failed due to, well that ‘C’ word as ‘Junior’ had ‘symptoms’ and as a result self isolation had to take place, but I had managed to secure a place on a later date and that day had finally arrived.

This was my first venture 29 miles up the road to the Jericho Cookery School just outside Oxford, and I was using a new Phone/Camera which did not work quite as expected so please excuse the pictures, normal service will resume on the next post!

The owner Emma and I had something in common, we had both lived in Eastbourne and remembered the famous “Hungry Monk’ in Jevington, the restaurant where the Bannoffee Pie was ‘evolved’ by chef Ian Dowding, click the link to read the real story of how things happened.

Unfortunately the ‘Jevington’ Hungry Monk now closed.

Social distancing was in order, a maximum of 8 hungry and expectant pupils where ready to learn some challenging and tasty Street Food recipes from the brilliant and knowledgeable chef John Fernandez, my nearest ‘neighbours’, a lovely couple who ran a farm, had driven over 2 hours from Exeter in Devon to attend such is the popularity and reputation of the school.

The courses at The Jericho Cookery School are ideally ‘bite sized’ sessions of typically between 2.5 and 3 hours, and the team had been extremely busy before we arrived, making sure every cookery station had the Ingredients laid out, and recipes at the ready so we could all attack our particular menu items straight away.

Two large bowls with Garlic and Ginger were passed up and down (safely) and amazing aromas filled the air as we got to preparing Gyoza’s, Chicken Satay, Bau and much more.

I had been given the task of preparing the Gyoza’s (Jiaozi), a speciality for Chinese New Year, but also a popular street food. I was really pleased as this was something I was keen to master, you can see the filling I made in the first picture, Pork Mince, Prawn, Spring Onion, Garlic, Ginger they were going to be delicious. There is a ‘secret’ ingredient I won’t mention, you will have to book the course to find out!

Yep, they were very delicious indeed, especially when served with the punchy sauce/dip I had also made under Johns’ guidance adding some extra ingredients not on the recipe to ‘lift’ things a bit. We were all shown two methods of creating the folds in the delicate thin water pastry cases which was actually quite therapeutic.

The group worked really well together, chatting, sharing experiences and all producing their elements of the menu time was flying by all too quickly. In the background, the very efficient Jericho team was making sure we had clean tasting spoons, washing up, providing refreshments and making the whole session run extremely smoothly.

Now, Gua Bao, or Bao Buns, fluffy light, slightly sweet, sticky, gooey, tasty, yummy, addictive so many words can be used in the same sentence for these very popular street food, especially in……… Taiwan which has a fascinating history, click the link to find out more!

John had prepared a yeast based dough which needed to rise, and then showed us how to produce the well known smiley shape, and then it was our turn, not bad for a first go I hope?

We ventured to the Far East via India, a delicious Aloo Gobi had been prepared by one couple, delicate florets of Cauliflower and Potatoes had been combined with fragrant spices to make a ‘yummy’ addition to our travels around the world, interesting was the use of the sweet Jaggery to balance the various spices that had been used. You can see how its made both traditional and modern here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhUdfB2uzgI and you can get it in many supermarkets if you look carefully in the low cost Indian Ingredients section.

Back to the Bao and once shaped and left to rise a bit more they were steamed then left to cool a little before filling with an assortment of deliciousness including a sticky mixed mushroom mixture made with the addition of Hoisin Sauce, Mushroom Soy, Oyster Sauce, Garlic and Ginger. We added slithers of Cucumber and Spring Onion and an addictive Sweet and Crispy Chilli condiment, mmmmmmm, yes please!

I love these kind of courses as you learn so much more than from a recipe book or following say, a YouTube video. Things like technique, texture and smell really need you to be in the room with the chef so you can experience what exactly is happening.

Visits to Mexico and Peru were included in the non-stop journey that Sunday morning, Ceviché as fresh as you could get and Churros with a rich Chocolate Sauce finished things off. We were shown how to skin the fillets of Bass and advised that too long in the ‘curing’ mixture would make a lovely mush!

I was extremely fortunate to visit Mexico last year and had several Ceviché and have to say that, despite the lack of sunshine and blue seas (not available in Oxford), it was banging delish….. The addition of some roasted Sweet Potato really balanced the tart acidity of the Lime cure, something I will definitely be having a go at.

So, the menu of our world tour went something like South Asian Chicken Satays With Peanut Sauce (not that claggy stuff you usually get in take-aways), Bao Buns, Ceviché, Gyoza, Aloo Gobi and ‘Mexican’ Churros with Chocolate Sauce (They are subtly different from the Spanish ones).

It was a fantastic morning, I am already booked on another course at Jericho, with Sumayya Usmani from Pakistan and also plan on booking at least one more before Christmas (this year)!

Please take a look and see if anything takes your fancy, as usual, these are my personal views, no payment or discount for promotion just an honest appraisal of my investment in learning new cookery skills,

Many thanks to Emma and her team, and John Fernandez the guest Chef for putting on a fantastic experience and putting a skip back in my step 🙂

……………………………Till next time…………….L8ers………………….

Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes) – Cooking with the Caliphs & Bethany Kehdy

It started around the 10th Century, a collection of recipes from the court of ninth-century Baghdad authored and put into a recipe book Kitab al-Tabikh. Interesting is that much of the ‘familiar’ food eaten in The Levant today bears no resemblance to recipes in the book.

So it was great excitement that sight of a random post on Instagram recently, by the Chef and Author Bethany Kehdy attracted my attention. The opportunity to sign up to a zoom cookery lesson and create some historically significant dishes was too much of a temptation and within a few minutes It was booked.

I know Bethany, I have her two cook books and we met in London a few years back when she ran a popup at a restaurant called Jago, in fact she was my inspiration to start this food blog several years ago and explore food in more detail, moving away from the conventional, dipping into the unfamiliar which has been a thoroughly satisfying journey so far.

So, a two hour ‘Zoom’ session was the plan, three recipes to tantalise the taste buds, and some culinary education on the way, Saturday was going to be very wet so a perfect excuse to spend some valuable time in the kitchen, with hopefully some tasty results to satisfy the appetite, and sharing the experience with global ‘foodies’.

Bread is a staple of the Levant, and so it made sense to come up with something to go with the dishes we were going to prepare. First thing Saturday the Mixer was loaded with a dough hook and a simple flat bread produced, yes, I know I could/should have done it by hand but I was simultaneously getting the ingredients ready (mise en place), so unusual for a man, multitasking!

We were going to make a Borani to start with, an appetiser made with either Spinach or Chard, soft Labneh and an assortment of aromats to add extra flavour, the dish would be topped off with halved, pickled grapes, yum.

I have never made Labneh before, the joining instructions we received several days before gave some alternatives, but I decided I wanted to make the ‘real deal’, which was a simple process. Yoghurt, Salt, Mix, Muslin cloth, hang over bowl in Fridge to drain the moisture. I started this on Thursday afternoon and it was ready for Saturday, delicious.

The Swiss chard and Grape Borani was very tasty with the Bread, fragrant, and crunchy with the addition of some chopped Walnuts. So that was the appetiser, what next?

If I said ‘Candied Beetroot’, what would you be thinking? My interpretation was slightly off the mark! I have been in the mobile telecoms industry for a long time. I can remember the ‘start’ of social media, and times before when you used a stamp or carrier pigeon to communicate. The miracle of communications, the internet and social media meant that I was ‘talking’ with Bethany (in Dubai, where she is based at the moment), within seconds and my mis-understanding clarified just as quickly!

Candied Beetroot Maqluba, or in my case Burgundy Beetroot was great fun to make. Layered Rice, with optional flaked Mackerel and beautiful earthy (not candied/sugared) Beetroot was delicious. I have seen this particular dish on YouTube, turned out in ceremony as its looks quite impressive when on the plate, the white and yellow Rice, and, rich and indulgent Beetroot, again another very tasty dish. This is one one of the recipes originating in the Kitab al-Tabikh cook book, the word Maqluba means ‘upside-down’.

Anyone think Aubergine is boring, if so this beauty will definitely change your mind, and its name is somewhat intriguing, ‘Lady Buran’s Sticky Badhinjan Fingers’! Its kind of sweet, sour, spicy, earthy, deliciousness and takes your mouth on a journey of tastes you will never forget.

Having been sent the ingredients and their alternatives I had decided I wanted to try and use the authentic ones like Argan Oil, Verjuice and Pomegranate Molasses, the latter I already had in the cupboard. For the Verjuice I went a bit ‘off piste’, and found something called Ab Ghorreh which is similar but actually Middle-Eastern. I checked with Bethany (Instant Messaging is just so useful), and was advised it was fine, but not to use so much as it was a bit more sour than Verjuice.

What fun we all had, Zoom did its job despite the audience being in two different American States, the UK and Dubai, and two hours of cooking chatting, questions the result was, well you can see for yourself, taste wise, it was delicious and now I have some more historic and unusual cuisine in the portfolio.

Bethany was very patient, frequently checking where we all were, answering queries on the various stages we had to go through to produce three, to be honest extremely impressive looking dishes, fit for any party, banquet, or in my case, cooked for a loved one.

I would highly recommend trying to get on one of these cookery lessons, they are about 2 hours long and great value for money, I enjoyed it so much I have already booked the next one!

As usual, I paid full price, was not offered anything and this Is just an honest view of my experience, great fun and more culinary experience to use in the future.

I have not updated this blog for a long time, obvious reasons with the mad world we are living in I have been distracted but apart from another session with Bethany on Saturday, I am attending Jericho Kitchen in Oxford (hopefully if rules don’t change), at the end of the month to do an Indian Street Food Course.

……………………………………..Until Next Time……Keep Safe……………………………….