Wow, you say “tooth poo” and the readers come running – I had my biggest day in ages yesterday. What a perverse lot these blog browsers must be. Maybe I should start prefacing every post with “Tooth poo! Tooth poo!” just to keep my stats up.
It’s hard to come back from tooth poo, so I’m going to change the subject rather radically and suggest we all just try and move on as best we can. I was going to share another frankly hilarious story with you on the subject of acid undies, but since they’re not my undies, I decided I’d better not. Some people don’t want their stories circulating on the World Wide Web by virtue of their friendship with me, and since it pertains to a delicate region, I thought I’d show some decorum for once and keep it to myself. It’s a shame, though, because it’s a beauty.
Aaaanyway, since I can’t tell you about the acid undies, I’m going to tell you about the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia (CIRA) and its cooking school (Casa Barilla, 4 Annandale St, Annandale, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Dani on 0405 286 067), a post I’ve been meaning to write since we went along to one of their cooking nights last Monday. We weren’t originally supposed to be going; we gave Llew’s brother a cooking class for he and his wife for his 40th birthday, but then they suggested we come along too, and we didn’t take much persuading. They chose ‘Modern Italian Food from the South,’ which was run by Danny Russo, Head Chef at the recently refurbished Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills.
We didn’t really know what to expect, but the cooking school is really well equipped and centrally located in Annandale – we jumped in a cab from the CBD and it only cost about $20 in peak hour (go via the Anzac Bridge and avoid Broadway and Parramatta Rd like your life depends on it). There were four student ‘kitchens’ with four students apiece, and Chef’s demonstration kitchen at the front.
Chef didn’t waste any time setting the tone for the evening – Danny was informal and enthusiastic, a charming, amusing host for the night. His jokey rapport with his sous chef made me sorely miss working with chefs, which I used to do as a waitress during my undergraduate years. The chefs I knew were pretty naughty people – they mostly took their steak and their humour on the blue side. It’s an intense, pressure-cooker environment in a commercial kitchen, and it is not for the faint-hearted. Of course, these boys reigned it in before the roomful of watchful students, and maybe they’re more well-behaved than chefs were in the old days, but I’m pleased to say that irreverent cheeky streak was alive and well.
It was a great way to spend an evening, not least because we ended up making and eating a fantastic three-course meal we washed down with a half glass of wine at each stage. The four of us got to do something fun and interactive together, we all learnt something (or several things, as a matter of fact), and we ate very, very well. Danny’s menu hit exactly the right notes because he concentrated on three things: seasonal produce, simplicity of preparation, and complementary flavours. There was nothing gimmicky or showy about it, it was just great ingredients combined in fresh and easy to prepare ways. And yet still impressive. I’ve entertained a lot over the years, and one of the hardest balancing acts is that between effort and enjoyment. I want to impress my guests, but I don’t want to be in the kitchen chained to the stove the whole time they’re in my home. What I loved about Danny’s menu was the emphasis he placed on things that could be prepared in advance – stock, dressings, dough. And if they couldn’t be done ahead of time, nothing else was tricky or fiddly or plain stupid when it came to dealing with it on the night. Sure, we had four of us divvying up different jobs, but there was a lot of time to chat and we must have toasted Simon’s birthday, CIRA, Danny, and ourselves at least a dozen times… not exactly a fraught environment, if you know what I mean. It all unfolded seamlessly – and everything was so pretty on the plate. There’s no other word for it. Pretty and fresh and appealing.
What did we make? Roast scallops with a pine nut and parsley salad for starters; Salad of poached veal girello with raspberries and almonds (we were TERRIFIED this was going to be sweet, but it wasn’t), and the dangerously moreish paste mandorle di noto for dessert – almond biscuits, in essence, that I could not stop eating until they were gone. Hot delectable biscuits straight from the oven? I’m telling you, they were worth the price of the class on their own. It just struck us as a great gift idea – what’s not to love about teaching someone close to you how to better cater for their dinner parties?! And yes, we loved going too. The only thing wrong with the entire experience was the wine control. Three half (actually, it was more like a third) glasses of wine per person over the entire night?! That’s not how dinner parties go down at my house. And I’m going to have to check out how it all happens at Danny’s public house now – the Beresford, that is. As much as I loved the cooking class, I have no aversion to sending the man back to the kitchen.