Belfast Cookery School
53-54 Castle Street
Class Investment: £60
I use this website mostly for comic, books and genre related reviews. Occasionally though I go off brand and just blog about things I’ve done. I apologise if you are here under false pretences as their aren’t any super heroes or aliens featured in this blog post. Here I’m talking a little bit of one of my other passions…
I’ve had an interest in cooking for a long time.We both work full time 9 to 5 and in addition my wife works away from home at weekends running a seal rescue centre a three hour drive away. So I tend to make the majority of the food at home. I like to experiment and try new things. I find cooking a great stress reliever and love to cook for other people.
I’d gone to a Mexican restaurant in called La Taqueria with a couple of friends after finding it by accident as a result of the Primark fire in Belfast. A diversion led me down a street I really wouldn’t have went to otherwise. On the way in I noticed it shared a building with Belfast Cookery School. I hadn’t heard of anything similar locally before I was immediately intrigued as to what they might have to offer.
I started to check the Belfast Cookery School website regularly to see the types of classes they had on offer. What I noticed almost straight off is that classes fill up really quickly. A few months went by and I still wasn’t able to find a class with a theme I wanted to try on a night I could make it.
Then this week I noticed that there was space on the “Midnight Munchies” class. ( affectionately referred to as the “stoner class.”)
I was hot and cold on going to the class because I knew at short notice I’d have to go on my own. It’s intimidating enough to try something new, without the added pressure having to do it solo. The desire to get the class when I had the chance won out.
The class started at 7pm so I made my way to Castle Street and nervously took the stairs up to the 2nd floor to the school.
Immediately on entry staff offered me the warmest of welcomes. My nerves settled almost immediately. They led me to a seated area at the back of the class room, offered me seat and a glass of water and asked if I wanted a complimentary drink of something stronger. I decided to go with a caffeine kick. With a great cup of Coffee in hand I read through the disclaimer form and waited for the rest of the class to arrive.
The classes usually run with sixteen students, but I was lucky enough to be in a class that had just 7 participants.
This meant that from the off the staff couldn’t have been more attentive, but I have zero doubt that even with a full class the ratio of staff to student would have offered the same great service.
Head chef and proprietor Ian Hunter Introduced himself and explained the format the class would take. He would demonstrate each dish and then it was our turn move off to our individual work stations to make our two starters, main course and desert.
Prior to this while noseying at at the work stations I noticed a problem for me. I have an unusual allergy. I’m allergic to mushrooms. If I touch them, my skin reacts badly it reddens and swells dramatically. If I eat them or eat food that has been cooked using the same equipment, that swelling happens to my throat and tongue. Sometimes even if someone else has been eating or cooking with them I can have a mild reaction where my eyes stream and my breathing becomes laboured. People tend, especially in restaurants to outright disbelieve me or more generously believe that I don’t like them and I’m exaggerating by saying I’m allergic. I didn’t raise the issue when I booked because the menu online never mentioned mushrooms but while checking out the work stations I saw that the vegetable portions for the Philly Cheesesteak where all sitting on top the dreaded funghi.
I was really loathe to bring it up as it’s a weird thing to have to explain, but when I did, quietly dying a little inside Ian couldn’t have been more helpful. Even if he thought I was full of shit he tried very hard not to show it which I appreciated and the offending fungus was spirited away and fresh ingredients replaced them. The way this issue, that is exceptionally specific to me was handled couldn’t have been better.
So with my world record breaking time attempt at the most awkward student ever over with Ian got down to business demonstrating the first two courses.
Nacho Popcorn with Crispy Maple Bacon
Parmesan and Black Pepper Chicken Wings.
Ian demonstrated each step of the recipes in easily digestible chunks. As good a Chef as he is, he’s as equally as good a teacher. Doling out tips like never chopping garlic but instead grating it ( the difference in flavour this causes you would not believe ) showing us how to make Chicken Wing “lollipops” you really feel like you are gaining some insider knowledge. In what seemed like no time he had created two visually stunning and beautifully tasting dishes. Now it was our turn to make our way to our workstations and it kinda felt like like a street busker being asked to go on stage after Jimi Hendrix has just played All Along The Watch Tower on a flaming guitar. Ian makes cooking seem like Rock N’ Roll.
The Workstations are laid out with military precision. The kitchen staff have all ingredients and all equipment laid out “mise en place” or “everything in its place” meaning it was all to hand when needed. The recipe sheets where concise and easy to follow. My fellow students were working in pairs and Norman-No-Mates over here had the disadvantage of having to do all the work himself. This actually focused me all the more on the tasks at hand knowing full well if I made a pigs ear of it I had no one to blame but myself. I’d like to tell you I fought the good fight and single-handedly produced two restaurant standard dishes all by myself but Ian moved between all the work stations with almost superhuman foresight and managed to be just in the right place at the right time to stop me making too bad a bollocks of anything. Make no mistake though, I was super proud of what I produced.
That nacho sauce on the popcorn is similar to the deliciously dirty stuff you get with cinema nachos minus the preservatives. When I posted this picture on my social media I had twenty odd people ask me for the recipe. It’s a stunner.
These chicken wings were deep fried at two different temperatures making them super crispy. I’m never going back to greasy, slimy oven baked wings again.
Then the best bit. You get to eat them.
After an offer of a few more drinks it was on to watch the demonstration of the main course. Then once again it was my turn.
Philly Cheesesteak with “Dirty” Jalapeno Fries.
Again more tips handed out like slicing the steak with the grain to lessen the contracting during cooking and therefore minimising it toughening up and never adding protein to a cold or medium pan because then all you do is end up boiling the meat instead of frying it. Hot pan for steaks!
We were also taught some knife skills at this point with Ian demonstrating the proper way to “Chiffonade” for the jalapenos, parsley and chives for the “Dirty” Fries. This simple little cut really makes you feel like a chef. Bonus points for not hacking my own fingers off, but as Ian has shown me how to stop that happening I feel a lot more confident using a knife at home.
These simple enough dishes look way more impressive than they are difficult to make. In no time at all I was chowing down on my main course.
Then Ian demonstrated the final dish of the night. Dessert!
Chocolate Chip Cookie S’Mores
These were super easy ( especially as the staff did the melting of the marshmallows ) but as simple as it is if you produce these for friends I guarantee you’ll be fighting them for the last one.
Three hours had flown by and I’d produced four visually stunning and great tasting dishes made with ingredients that are easily available and with equipment most people will have at home.
I honestly can’t heap enough praise on Belfast Cookery School and their staff. This experience was 10/10 and one of the best things I think I’ve ever done.
If you have any interest in cooking there is no better place to spend an evening in Belfast. Learning skills and taking home recipes I have no doubt you’ll use for the rest of your life.
Gift vouchers are available, and if anyone I know is reading this please buy me some.
I already have my eye on the Mexican night…