Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cooking Classes at Coriander Leaf

Our research group went round and round over where to have our staff retreat. Sentosa? A spa? Universal Studios? Much to the chagrin of some of the boys, their suggestion of drinking beer at a bar all afternoon was not taken seriously. Causing them even further distress, we finally settled on corporate cooking classes at Coriander Leaf in Clarke Quay.

As it turned out, the cooking class was awesome, so everyone was happy! We got there early in the afternoon and were shown into a spacious kitchen with lots of counters and workspace. The kitchen was on the second floor, and offered a nice view of the Singapore River and the quay. Food and spices were laid out and waiting for us. Plastic aprons and chef hats (too small for my giant American head, causing everyone to laugh when I jammed it on and ripped it right up the back) were distributed, along with the world's best cooking aid (red wine!).
I wish my spices were this neatly organized.
Ummm...I hope no one wants me  to touch that dead duck...
Assad and Yock Theng, looking stylish

After we'd all donned our unflattering trash bag aprons, we were broken into teams and given menus. Each team was assigned a few dishes and we were told to try to time it well so that all teams had our dishes ready at once. I laughed when I heard my team, which included Kiersten (who doesn't own a potholder and didn't own anything sharper than a butter knife until recently) and Assad (who, when I asked him if he had an oven, replied " think so," and then later discovered that it was, in fact, just a cupboard). We also had three other team members, one of them looking a little wide-eyed and frightened at the prospect of cooking. Our assigned dishes were Vietnamese rice paper rolls with peanut dipping sauce, and minced chicken kebabs.

Cooking class menu booklet
Our very patient instructor

 Our instructor gave us some last words on hygiene and kitchen safety, then we all dug in.  It was a bit hectic at first, with everyone scrambling to snatch up the right ingredients. I'm usually a pretty decent cook, but we needed to cook shrimp and chicken, and I've never cooked either one (I've been vegetarian since I first started learning to cook), so I stayed out of that part. Instead, I set to julienning carrots and radishes for the spring rolls. I was super excited by the funky contraption I got to use to do it! 
Fancy carrots!
Kiersten's expecting a call from Food Network any day now

Before long, all of our spring roll ingredients (shrimp, radishes, carrots, mint, coriander) were ready, and we were ready to roll them up. As it turned out, although Kiersten doesn't have much cooking experience, she can wrap a mean spring roll. Mine were a little sloppier than hers, but Assad's were in a league of their own. They were...special. Unique. Unusual. OK, they were giant and ugly, and we had to either take them apart and redo them or convince someone to eat them so we wouldn't have to put them on the plate. After three attempts, each resulting in renewed gales of laughter and ridicule from Kiersten and me, he gave up on spring roll-ing and went back to plucking coriander leaves off of their stems. But he was a good sport. In the picture below, he's trying to tuck the ends under his roll to make it look better.
Kiersten's masterpiece on the right, Assad's sad bundle on the left
Apparently "plastic apron chic" isn't really my look.

Before long, the other colleagues on our team had whipped up some kebabs and peanut dipping sauce, and Assad, Kiersten, and I were finishing up our spring rolls. We took a break to look around at the other teams and I was really impressed by how much everyone had accomplished in just a couple of hours. All around people were saying things like "Hey! It doesn't look as bad as I thought!" or "LOOK! I COOKED SOMETHING!!! AND NO ONE'S HURT!" Inspired by the fancy plating being done by some of the other teams, we set to trying to make our spring rolls look beautiful. Some of the Coriander Leaf staff helped us out by showing us how to cut fancy flowers and decorations out of lemons, tomatoes, and eggplants. The end result looked fantastically gourmet!
Bon appetit!
Not bad!! I hope Bryan doesn't start expecting me to present dinner this way...

Once everything was ready, we laid it all out on a banquet table in the next room. Our colleagues had all performed amazing culinary feats!
Top: Baba Ghanoush, Curried Chickpeas, Minced Chicken Kebabs; Bottom:
Spinach Phyllo Triangles, Duck Crepe Rolls (note the severed duck head), Bananas with Chocolate Ganache Baked in Phyllo

And I didn't even get photos of everything! Probably because I was too busy deciding what I was going to eat first. As it turned out, there was plenty of vegetarian stuff for me to eat, and I had an excuse to not have to try EVERYTHING. There was so much food! My favorites were the curried chickpeas and the awesome banana dessert.

As we chowed down, our instructor handed out some awards for best team, best chef, and best of all, sexiest chef ("for the person who handled the food in the most sexy way"). Sexiest chef went to my over-60 boss, which gave us all a good laugh. He handled it with grace, and proudly wore the awesome hat they gave him.
An award to be proud of

It was a wonderful time, and we all lingered for awhile, talking, laughing, and drinking wine. Eventually we packed up leftovers to cart home and we all dispersed with full stomachs! I'm going back to Coriander Leaf next week for a work dinner, and I'm excited to see what the food will be like. I figure that if the food we cooked tasted so good, the food they make is probably pretty great!



    (Caps seemed appropriate.)

  2. What a great idea for retreat --- the food looks awesome. We are going to Universal Studios :(

  3. Mark- It WAS amazing. You would have loved it. Especially the dessert!

    Tei- Yeah, I heard you guys are going to Universal...I declined taking the day off to join you, haha. For some reason, I just can't get excited about spending the day there.

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