The Essential Ingredient has moved to Foveaux Street from Rozelle, much to the delight of Surry Hills’ culinary crowd. The store is known for its top tier cookware, expansive selection of ingredients, and infinite pool of staff cooking knowledge.
The at-home artisan and the extravagant entertainer would be hard pressed to find a utensil or niche ingredient absent from the shelves.
At The Essential Ingredient’s cooking school, skilled chefs teach attendees fundamental techniques and use ingredients they might not otherwise be game to cook with at home.
From kombucha fermenting to mastering the Moroccan feast, Italian pastry techniques and the intricacies of cooking fish, the school provides usable skills and knowledge with a hands-on approach, as opposed to other ‘master classes’ where attendees just stand and watch.
We went along to the Essentially Thai course led by Australia’s Malaysian food ambassador and everyone’s favourite aunty, Wanitha Tanasingam.
Thai food has traditionally resided in my ‘do not attempt’ folder, reserved for restaurants and Friday night Uber Eats. There are so many elements to a Thai dish that to cook one from scratch seems utterly overwhelming.
As I looked around the communal cooking bench at the other sheepish attendees, I could see I wasn’t alone in feeling completely out of my depth.
Wanitha took her place at the front of the table and announced:
“We’re going to learn the way I was taught, which is to understand the ingredients, to get to know them.
“The idea of any workshop, educators will tell you, is to empower you.”
Essential Ingredient’s mantra is to cook from scratch. We learn how to dice an onion (a technique which I now use every time), how to balance all the flavours of a curry paste and what to look for when making sure a vegetable is at its prime.
“Once you get the flow going, cooking becomes a dance!” Wanitha exclaimed and the class started to loosen up. Our group of ten was split up into smaller work groups to focus on each element.
It’s enviable, the confidence Wanitha exudes as she mixes spices together in perfect balance, adds an unmeasured pinch here and there. Every move shows a seasoned professional in her element.
At the end of the evening we opened a few bottles of wine and marvelled, ravenous, at what we had each created: two types of curry paste from scratch, chicken satay, Pad Thai, green fish curry and a Thai beef salad. Not bad for a bunch of first-timers.
While I’m not totally at home in the Thai cuisine arena, I’m now willing to give it a red-hot crack at home. Perhaps most valuable were the skills Wanitha taught us that can be applied to a whole range of culinary scenarios.
Taking risks and adding a bit of spice to my kitchen repertoire might just pay off, if only for the fun had in the process.