27 December 2019

I'm a decent cook and still took a cooking class - here's why

| Elka Wood
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Ever made paella? Neither had I. Photos: Elka Wood.

I’m in Bermagui on a Sunday night with six strangers, my mother-in-law and chef Kelly Eastwood, who has such a star-studded resume of TV cooking shows that if I had thought about it, I would have been intimidated attending one of her cooking classes.

We’re all zesting lemons, chopping parsley, measuring milk and sectioning squid at our individual places around a huge stainless steel bench.

I think of myself as a pretty decent cook, in that I don’t feel stressed about the idea of cooking dinner for 10 and I often throw together our family meals with very little planning. So why the hell am I taking a cooking class?

A combination of factors led me here: my American in-laws are visiting from Montana and I wanted to give my mother-in-law a gift she didn’t have to drag home in her suitcase (an experience, not a thing).

She also likes cooking but may be a bit burnt out after 40 years of living remotely and feeling obliged to keep producing meals, so I was hoping that a cooking class would provide some inspiration for both of us.

Eastwood hosts a range of different classes and our menu today is Spanish. Kelly lived in Spain for seven years, so even without her extensive cordon bleu credentials is better placed than most to advise on how to make paella, croquettas and creme Catalana.


Hot and oozy croquettas were deep-fried and eaten outside while the paella cooked.

The class is BYO but not everyone is partaking, making the class occasionally feel like an airport bar, with deep, comfortable silences and all of us united in our physical location and not much else.

But Kelly is so easy in her role that those moments are few and far between.

She gives clear directions, making eye contact and using easy-to-follow visuals like “a dice as big as my little fingernail”, all the while chatting and laughing with the mixture of ages, genders and experience levels in the class.

As soon as I realised what a font of knowledge Kelly is, I was surprised how satisfying it was to let all my cooking questions float to the top – all those questions I might Google one day but never actually have.

Although I had made a roux for thickening bechamel many times, I had a haunting feeling that I should be cooking the flour longer and wondered if my roux tasted floury.

Kelly was reassuring that “a few minutes should cook out that floury taste”.

What is the difference between stock and broth? Isn’t broth just stock you feed to sick people?

“Broth is bones cooked with an acid, like vinegar, which breaks down the bones more than simmering alone so you get more concentrated collagen and other nutrients,” Kelly explains.

Shirley Karuzas

Shirley Karuzas of Montana brûlées the top of a creme Catalana at Eastwood’s Cooking School in Bermagui.

One of the participants is a retired teacher who had previously attended Kelly’s class focusing on the elements of a successful salad.

When Kelly inquires how his cooking is going, he says he’s having more successes than failures, implying heavily that the ratio was reversed before he took the class.

Most of her students are complete beginners, Kelly says, with the odd experienced cook accompanying a friend, partner or relative who is learning.

Despite feeling that I would have been able to follow a recipe and cook the recipes Kelly gave us before I took the class, I’m so glad I did it. The process of cooking and eating together is never a waste of time and it was lovely not to have to think about shopping, dishes or pack up.

Watching Kelly work makes cooking seem easy, approachable and fun.

“A pinch of salt,” she says blithely, adding with a cheeky grin “a chef pinch“, pouring a generous handful of salt into the dish.

The class gave us the purest components of cooking – the creative act of combining and heating food, and the eating of good food, the breaking of hot croquettas in a cool sea breeze with strangers who might become friends.

Check out Kelly’s upcoming classes here.

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