Last month those lovely people over at Qype invited a lucky group over to Angela Malik’s cookery school in Acton Central. I was slightly fractious when I arrived, having taken TFL’s advice and therefore a ridiculous route. Hint: make sure you’re arriving to Acton Central overground rather than a tube + onward journey if you go. Walk into the deli at the front of the shop, accept a very chilled glass of wine, decompress. Awake taste buds (which you’ll need shortly) by nibbling bread loaded with their signature pestos. Peer down the demo room lined with long stainless steel tables, stations awaiting chefs. Or Qypers, at any rate.
Angela is a former consultant who changed careers in her 30s and retrained at Leiths. She’s diminutive but authoritative and it’s easy to imagine her running a commercial kitchen though she’s also great fun, and crucially as good a teacher as a chef.
Her inspiration comes from the five tastes which of course she invited us to name. Like good students we shouted out the answers: sweet, salty, hot, sour and umami. You know there’s a foodie crowd in when she asked for examples and the responses include jaggory, agave, anchovies, tamarind and turmeric. She taught us that you can exchange different substances from the same group which I’d instinctively do with sweet substances when baking but it wouldn’t necessarily have occured to me to swap citrus for vinegar in savoury dishes. She emphasised the importance of including all of the five tastes in each meal and then went on to guide us through making dim sum and gyoza.
As we prepped the ingredients George the KP kept our wine glasses topped up, which led me to pepper the mixture with an overactive flick of the wrist. Suddenly the bowl looked like it was being shown on a black and white TV screen with a bad reception. We’d been instructed to call for Chef when we were ready for her to taste our seasoning and I considered hiding behind my teammates. Surprisingly, it was passed without any additions – and this along with other recent experiments led me to realise I’ve been underseasoning food for ages. Essential ingredient like salt in particular have been demonised – but I’d sooner eat a smaller plate of something bursting with flavour than a trough of bland fodder.
Dim sum served with piquant tomato relish and fresh coriander, fresh out of the steamer. Angela champions the need to serve this food fresh (to the point where I actually started planning to cook these in a friend’s open-plan flat and pretty much lob them into guests’ mouths straight from the pot) and it certainly makes a difference to the taste. Even after sitting for only minutes there was a marked deterioration in flavour which makes me wonder how restaurants manage. We moved on to steaming and frying gyoza which were light and fantastic drenched in the homemade dipping sauce.
It’s certainly worth the trip to visit Angela Malik and you can check out upcoming classes here. The most important thing in this entire – and very enjoyable – evening was leaving with the urge to experiment with flavours and substitutions, rather than slavishly following recipes. Yes, there might be some disasters but it’s worth it. I sense a storecupboard spree coming on…