Emily Rookwood compares two very different ways of learning how to cook: School of Wok versus Jessica’s Recipe Bag
TODAY I AM pitting two different ways of learning to cook against eachother. They are admittedly very different but it seemed like a nice way to combine two things that essentially share the same aim: to inspire you to make great food at home.
The two contenders are School of Wok and Jessica’s recipe bag: one is a cookery school focusing on teaching Asian cuisine and the other a delivery of fresh food, in the correct portions accompanied by a simple recipe guide. One is for those with a keener interest in cooking, the other for those pressed for time and inspiration. Let battle commence.
School of Wok
First up is School of Wok. Much like many a mime artist, the Apple Store and Shake Shack this once wandering cookery school has made its base in Covent Garden. School of Wok specialises in hands-on Asian cookery courses from the basics of Thai cuisine to in depth, five-day dim sum courses. Head chef and founder, Jeremy Pang (who has recently just been praised by the mighty Ken Hom) runs the school with help from several other very knowledgeable chefs.
I went in to learn the basics of Thai cuisine, from wok and knife skills, ingredients and equipment to the perfect technique for making spring rolls. It turns out I am hugely competitive when it comes to spring-rolling, but more on that later.
There were 14 of us in the class, big enough to ensure a jolly atmosphere but not so large that it detracted from the effectiveness of the tuition. During the three- hour lesson we learnt how to make a thai green curry from scratch (I still have some of the paste in my freezer), pad thai and spring rolls. Tuition was friendly and easy to follow, Jeremy really does know his stuff. He also told me that my spring rolls were perfectly rolled, which only made me more competitive.
After spending two hours in the kitchen, smelling all the wonderful fragrances from the lemon grass, garlic and coconut you take the fruits of your labour upstairs and sit around a communal table for an almighty feast. Thankfully each curry pot is named so you don’t end up eating the world’s spiciest curry created by ‘John’ on the other bench, who is in training for man vs. food.
It makes for a wonderfully good fun and highly informative evening whether you are a complete novice or a confident home cook. I am now itching to go and competitively make spring rolls for my nearest and dearest (and buy a massive pestle and mortar).
Jessica's Recipe Bag
A different option is Jessica’s Recipe Bag. Essentially here you get sent a big bag full of beautifully fresh produce — meat, fish, veg and a few dry ingredients — along with a recipe booklet containing four recipes. You will have exactly the correct amount of everything to make four evening meals for your family (so no food waste) without having to truck the children around Waitrose. I’m told it is aimed at people who want to make nutritious food for their families but don’t have the time to shop and plan meals themselves.
Now I have to admit that as a fairly confident home cook who rarely follows recipes I went rather off-piste and thoroughly enjoyed it. The recipes are very simple, which for someone wanting to learn to cook is perfect, but if you feel yourself to be up to more than a pasta bake or chicken pie (the pastry is supplied ready made and ready rolled) it will be very tempting to take the ingredients and do your own thing.
While I admit to not being wholly convinced by some of the recipes (cod with Thai tomato sauce seemed to be an amalgamation of two different dishes rather than one cohesive one), if you were not confident in the kitchen but still wanted to make nutritious and tasty food for your family this isn’t a bad way to go. The produce is lovely and fresh and great quality — the lamb mince provided was some of the tastiest I have ever had, vac-packed to retain the full meaty flavour. You can also trace the majority of the produce back to the supplier and as far as possible the produce will be organic.
I do find it a little bizarre that in the family bag, you only get four meals — why not five or seven? That would seem more logical to me. I am sure there is a reason and this really isn’t a big issue, it just struck me as odd. You do also only get your evening meal ingredients, so inevitably you will have to do a shop at some point for your breakfast, lunch and puddings, which raises the question of whether the recipe bag really saves you that much time in the long run.
If Abel and Cole is a blank canvas, Jessica’s recipe bag is painting by numbers: great for beginners but a little restrictive for the more competent or flamboyant.