Clare Mack and Neil Pendock go back to school and learn how to make risotto, gnocchi and fruit minestrone
If Guy Ritchie was to direct Master Chef SA, Liam Tomlin would be typecast as the cynical hard man judge with lethal knife skills. For Dublin-born Tomlin learned his trade in London with the Roux brothers. “You can’t make good food in eight hours they told me, which was their excuse for getting 16 hours work out of us.” His worst beating came when he made the brioche with salted butter “it was brutal.” To this day, he only cooks with fridge chilled, unsalted.
We shifted in our seats hoping we wouldn’t be wrapped on our knuckles later on for minor misdemeanours.
In 1997 Tomlin decamped to Australia where he set up one of Sydney’s best restaurants called Banc. In these days, where everyone is a celebrity chef waiting to be discovered , Tomlin is the old-style real deal and uses copious amounts of cream, butter, cheese and fat. “People are shocked but there are some things that cannot be compensated for.”
There was a moment when Tomlin and sous-chef John van Zyl (ex Roundhouse) had eight pans of gnocchi frying, stirring and pouring in olive oil like a pair of demented octopi, that the Liam Tomlin Food Cooking School in Franschhoek resembled a game show. Which is quite appropriate, as food is the new entertainment. Liam Tomlin told us at the start of his inaugural cooking demo “Franschhoek does not need another restaurant.”
The school is an all-singing, all-dancing post-modern laboratory of gastronomy located in the Leopard’s Leap Tasting Room, 500m on the Franschhoek side of La Motte. Although the equipment is state-of-the-art AEG, it’s nothing you couldn’t install in your Sandton or Fresnaye kitchen, if you had a sugar mummy or daddy with deep pockets. “All appliances are domestic: gas stoves and electric ovens. All my pots are steel, not aluminium and will last longer than I do.”
The school looks like a TV studio with pairs of cameras, carefully focused as Tomlin is a leftie, projecting the action onto giant flat screens above the cooking counters. “We’ve got all the gear” he says “and show everything with the exception of smell.” So he still has to mingle with the masses, thrusting bunches of French tarragon, jars of dried Porcini mushrooms (“pure umami”) and sweated strawberry juice under your nose to supply the missing dimension.
On this very first day of the cooking school the food was Italian Mama: mushroom risotto, gnocchi with asparagus and a fruit minestrone.
R250 buys you a good two hours of entertainment, the meal and three wines with the Leopard’s Leap Family Reserve 2008 Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier a stonker.
Flipping phenomenal value.
A hush descended on the class when we got to taste the risotto, it was rich, unctuous and the flavour of the tarragon was sublime.
Potato Gnocchi was delicious due to Liam’s technique of always pan frying gnocchi after it’s been simmered in water.
The dessert Minestrone of Fresh Fruit was very simple and, according to Liam, so versatile it’s possible to get four other desserts from this basic line up of fruit.
Mind you when we heard that it would be necessary to destone the cherries we looked at each other and took another sip of wine.
We felt this was a rather labour intensive demand given the fact that we are newbie’s to the cookery school scenario.
There’s something about watching Liam in action, chatting as he’s goes along imparting knowledge in such a down to earth way, you can just see his extraordinary experience on display.
Liam has an eclectic menu of demos and interactive cooking classes coming up over the next few months. Our advice; put on those pinnys and get yourself to one of Liam’s classes. This school has the wow factor and Oh, did we mention?; we had great fun.
www.liamtomlinfood.com for the program.
Ten Tomlin Tips
- Always bake your potatoes before making gnocchi, to get rid of excess water.
- To sauté mushrooms, the pan must be screaming hot, otherwise you get stewed mushrooms which have a less intense flavour.
- When making a stock, add salt at the end dealing with over salted food is a nightmare.
- Alcohol is an ingredient in cooking, so don’t use rubbish. Tomlin normally cooks with wine he intends serving with the dish.
- Freeze any excess stock in an ice cube tray.
- Look for French tarragon – the stuff Woolies sells taste like grass instead of aniseed.
- You get two kinds of potato – waxy and floury. Use the floury ones for gnocchi.
- Add the mushrooms to the cooked Arborio rice for a mushroom risotto so they retain their shape and its mushroom not mush risotto.
- Tomlin is a firm believer that if you’re going to use something, like pancetta, then use it. No ingredients in homeopathic amounts.
10. Top off the risotto with deep fried shallots.