Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mexican Meal @ Social Cooking

Tortilla soup and churros?  I like the sound of that!  When a friend was not able to make it to a Social Cooking class they had bought a daily deal for, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

The ground floor kitchen on Nelson Street is not a place you would normally walk past, but you have a good view of the beautiful space from the street. Despite the website stating "Please arrive 15-30 minutes prior to the class starting as the demonstration starts smack on time" though, it was not entirely to schedule. No, this is not a class with a focus on speed or skill acquisition.  It is about cooking as a social event, and as such, it runs at a rather leisurely pace, to give you a chance to chat to your fellow students.

View from the street, while waiting for the class to begin.
We wandered in and stood around looking confused for a while, then we were greeted, and marked off the attendance list. "Now, a glass of bubbly is included with your deal.  Would you like to have that, or would you rather drink something else?  We have wine, beer, non-alcoholic drinks..."  The staff member took our order and promised to bring our drinks and name stickers around.

Cutlery hooks are very appropriate for hanging aprons.
The cooking demonstration started about 10 minutes late.  Fortunately, there were little packets of bagel chips on the table, so if you were already needing a bite, you could stave off your hunger a little.  The instructor cracked jokes and set a conversational tone, telling us about growing up in Goa and working on cruise ships. It was an entertaining show, but you couldn't help but notice the product-pushing.  We were working on induction cooktops from Electrolux, all the spices were from Gregg's, the frozen skinless chicken breasts were from Tegel's, and so on.

If you are anxious about cooking, this is the class for you.  The recipe is dead easy, put together with things things you can buy from the supermarket, and everything is measured out for you already.  You don't even have to crush your garlic, because there is a jar of Gregg's minced garlic waiting on the table.  Just in case you didn't know how to chop your onions though, the instructor takes you through the proper technique. (I disagree with his assertion that red onions make you cry more than regular brown ones though.)

While we were shown how to make the tortilla soup, a staff member also ran a food-related quiz, asking for instance how pizza margherita got its name, or what the original flavour of Twinkies was.  We got to take nibbles of the deep-fried tortilla strips, then sample the finished soup, watch the churros being made, and taste that too, before we were let loose to have a go ourselves.

Tortilla chips fried while cooking the rest of the ingredients. This space is actually for four couples.
It's a good thing we did not have to work in groups of more than two, because the bench space was feeling pretty crowded already, though we are used to working in a small kitchen.  It was our first time using an induction cooktop, and we were amazed at how quickly it heated food up.  However, we struggled with the touch controls, which didn't really want to respond to our frantic pressing and swiping most of the time.

Our sopa de tortilla.
We didn't want to have boiled chicken (okay, "poached" sounds somewhat better), so we modified the recipe a little and cooked the flesh on dry heat.  We followed the serving suggestion though, and wish we hadn't, because the fried tortilla strips went soggy pretty quickly in the hot liquid.  We would definitely have the chips sitting on the side or just on top next time.

To be honest, given the simple ingredients of this dish and the quick and easy steps involved, it was surprisingly tasty (apart from the frozen chicken breast which we overcooked).  And it looked impressive too, with some vibrant colours.

The staff cleaned up after us while we ate our meals, then after some more relaxing time (and offers of drinks), we were in the kitchen area again to make our dessert.  There were nine couples in the class, and only two deep fryers, so you can imagine we were hurrying through to make sure we got to one first.  We didn't manage to make our churros crisp, but they were delicious anyway, served with spiced hot chocolate (from Tio Pablo) or just sugar and cinammon.

Our churros weren't pretty or crispy, but they were good anyway.
Overall, we had a good meal (the portion sizes were huge too).  It was the first time we had used an induction cooktop or deep fryer, not to mention the first time we have tried to make tortilla soup and churros, and it's always good to try something new.  We found it hard to keep our interest levels up though, because of the slow pace of the class.  We are just not as good at making small talk with strangers as other people are.

This course is suited to beginners, and we wish this was clearer on the website.  For the price that we paid, even at the discounted rate of $100 for two people, we expected something a little more gourmet than food from a packet.  We would have loved to have been given a chance to make our own tortillas, for instance, or to mince our own garlic.

We were also not too impressed by the knives (blunt by our standards anyway) or the state of the deep frying oil (canola oil which was already dark brown before our class).  To add insult to injury, we were charged an extra $21 for the two glasses of wine we drank, one of which we had assumed would be included in the price we paid, as a replacement for the bubbly.

Although we were disappointed by the level of cooking in this class, it is likely that other classes will be more interesting.  A friend told me that she went to one for pork and fennel cannelloni, and they made the pasta from scratch.  Likewise, if you went to this with the intent of meeting people while doing something fun, you will get more out of it than if you were expecting some sort of masterclass.

We wouldn't pay full price for this event, but we did have an enjoyable evening trying a few new things. We might even make tortilla soup and churros again, now that we know how easy that can be!

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things.  This month it is hosted by Genie from Bunny. Eats. Design.


  1. I went to a couple of these classes, and was disappointed in both. Francis, the tutor was okay, and I talked to him about the lack of proper culinary skills imparted (use of processed ingredients when he could have taught us how to make chicken stock, etc) and the horrible blunt knives (I asked to use his knife on one of the occasions).

    In fact, the whole experience felt 'processed', - they ask you to look like you're having fun so they can put the photos on Facebook to promote the brand. I think this is fine if you are new to cooking, but if you have any modicum of cooking nous, stay away. They also put the hard sell to get you to book further classes.

    1. Which classes did you do?

      Come to think of it, even a beginner cook could do with learning about the joys of a sharp knife, or the proper use of deep frying oil. I was actually worried about eating something cooked in oil that had been reused so many times already.

      Agree with you about the atmosphere too. Maybe it would be less like pretending if you went with a group of friends. We definitely found it a bit awkward though.

    2. I also attended the Mexican class, which was okay, but the soup was too salty, and yes, what is with putting the tortilla on the bottom of the soup and getting them soggy? We ended up putting them on the top. My mum and I attended the risotto class, - the risotto was so salty (due to the packet stock and cheese) that it was barely edible. Overall it was just an expensive lesson.

      I'm trying to get a group together to do a class with Alli from Gourmet Gannet, - I know Alli and her baking is simply divine.

    3. Those Gourmet Gannet workshops look really good! $50 for something as exotic as sausage making, or as ambitious as flaky pastry, and I notice she has a Mexican class too.

      I think I will spend my next $50 on improving my skills at home though, if only because Gordon Ramsay will be signing his "Ultimate Cookery Course" book in Paper Plus Newmarket just after ANZAC Day.

  2. Pasta from scratch sounds like a much better lesson than soup, which I consider to be pretty basic and hard to mess up. A shame that your free bubbly turned into an expensive glass of wine. Hopefully they learn from the feedback. As the population gets more interested in food and cooking in general, there is room for decent casual cooking classes as a social activity. There is a market for it I think but with improvements of course.

    p.s. Thanks for submitting your post to Our Growing Edge.

    1. It wouldn't be hard for them to address some of the gripes that I had, and there are people who will enjoy this class just as it is already. It's just a matter of setting up the right expectations, I guess.


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