We’ve checked out plenty of cookery masterclasses at Townfish but none have such a homely, inviting feel as the venue at Food at 52. It’s centrally located within a short walking distance from Old Street station, however, as soon as you step inside you feel like you’ve been magically transported to an idyllic countryside estate. The ground floor lounge has a quirky, welcoming vibe including oddities such as a suit of armour and stained glass windows. Downstairs is a spacious kitchen that can cater for easily well over a dozen or more students. There are countless ingredients, pots and pans strategically placed around the space.
The star of the show here is the chef, John Benbow. Knowledgeable, personable and engaging, he makes the most difficult concepts in cookery seem like the simplest of tasks. He knows when to highlight key points that you need to take away from the lessons.
We took part in their Thai evening where we learned to cook 3 courses which included Asian salad with green papaya and rare beef, green Thai curry with sea bass and green peppercorns and finished off with a sticky rice with mango and sweet coconut dessert. The first thing to note is they send you the recipes at the end of the class so there’s no need to be taking notes. Secondly, you get to consume the appetiser rather quickly before embarking on cooking the main course so you don’t have to endure starvation until well past 21:00 in the evening. The dessert course was prepared for us with the recipe sent via email for guidance.
The Asian salad did seem deceptively simple to make but did involve a lot of prep work and plenty of opportunities to learn and practice your knife skills as we sliced up the papaya, chillies, and ginger. Fish sauce is a key ingredient in all Thai dishes and there’s been a lot of thought in offering textural and taste variety with dried shrimps, fried shallots, and garlic.
Making green Thai curry paste from scratch might seem a huge effort when you can buy them from a supermarket, but the difference in taste is all too evident once you’ve sampled John’s marvellous version. He taught us the tricks of the trade such as using the fat from the top of the can in coconut milk for the curry. The final product was hot but with refreshing citrusy notes and a fine balance between the sweetness and saltiness of the ingredients.
There was free-flowing wine throughout the evening and a convivial atmosphere where the learning is always fun as you mingle and practice with fellow cookery students.