As a nation we love a cookery show; from the tension of a Masterchef final to a Great British Bake-Off soggy bottomed saga the drama of the kitchen has gripped us by the iron- cast skillet. It’s little surprise then, that the rise of the celebrity chef, master baker and clean eating health nut has been even more spectacular than a Roux brother soufflé.
Of course, we’re no longer content with looking in; we want to experience the intoxicating flavour of foodie theatre first hand. We want it to be our hands in the mixing bowls, our knives chopping fresh veg and our larger-than-life big personalities stirring, slicing and rolling out their talents right there in front of us.
a fascinating journey of bright colours aromatic smells and weird and wonderful ingredients
Enter Praveen Kumar, owner and chef at Tabla Indian Restaurant in Perth city centre. Not only does he conjure up some of the best curry you’re ever likely to taste, his journey is an epic tale of adventure following a young boy clinging to an ambitious vision from his small village in the South of India, to his own hugely successful restaurant in Perth.
Quite apart from his cooking skills, Praveen has an air of proper, old-fashioned manners and gentlemanly behaviour and you will always find him beaming with infectious positivity. This likeability factor has helped him grow a huge fanbase - including the whole Small City team – and so it was only a matter of time before his entrepreneurial mind took the leap from restaurant to cook school. And naturally, we signed up for the first available class as soon as we heard!
Being the family man that he is, it’s no surprise that the cook school is set up in his own back garden.
We arrive early for our Saturday morning session to find his daughter playing in her tree house and his home-grown mint sprouting up proudly in pots at the entrance to the building housing his newest ambition. It’s a wonderfully heart-warming experience from the outset.
As we step inside, we’re greeted by the sight of eight clean and shiny work stations equipped with a two hob gas cooker, knives, tubs of chopped veg, Summer Harvest Rapeseed Oil and all the spices you could possibly need to cook up an Indian storm. At the back of the room, a long narrow dining table laid out with piping hot tea and coffee and box- fresh cook-school aprons, awaits today’s group of eager students.
After a quick cuppa, a round of introductions and a warm welcome from Praveen, we take our places at our shiny stations. We’re introduced to an array of spices, each one with its own story. We learn about the deft hands of the cinnamon growers who skilfully scrape the bark off the trees, careful to ensure they don’t go in too deep, “one tiny slip and the tree will die taking 100 years to grow back.” Then there’s the mushroom-like bulb that looks unlike anything I’ve ever seen and when eaten raw tastes so sour I fully expect an oompa-loompa to come cartwheeling in alongside me - Willy Wonka has nothing on Prav’s marvellous concoctions!
The entire day follows the same vibe with each and every one of us taken by the hand and led on this fascinating journey of bright colours, aromatic smells and weird and wonderful ingredients. The spices we’re using come from his own family farm and as he chatters about his recent holiday back home, we’re treated to a phone-video of the women from his village, working in the heat of the Indian sun to hand-grind their crop into the powerful, punchy powders we’re stirring into our pots.
Other ingredients are locally sourced where possible with our lamb from D G Lindsays and the Scottish cod for the fish curry from George Campbell and Sons Fishmongers.
From the word go we’re busy. Kicking things off by making our own ginger paste - which we’ll discover is a key ingredient in most dishes – the morning vanishes in a sea of spices, veggies and meats. Most dishes require only one bowl, and we’re encouraged to get right in there with our hands, rubbing the colourful spice mix around chunks of lamb and into glistening white fish fillets. It truly is an experience for all the senses – including touch - so expect mucky hands and a filthy apron!
The day starts, breaks and finishes with the group around the table chatting as we tuck into the tasty end results of our hours spent at the stove. Digging into the poppadum’s, veggie pakora, spicy onions and fish curry we’d all cooked from scratch – a little from each person’s pot is added to a communal dish to create enough to share and ensure plenty to take home – the atmosphere is one of family with students, teacher and Adam our potwasher, all sitting together marvelling at the secret ingredient in spicy onions (you’ll never guess what it was and I’m not giving it away!).
Round two is a lamb bhuna, a tasty tarka potato recipe and sides of vegetable rice and chapattis. The smell of those rich lamb curries bubbling away in pots is intoxicating and I’m not sure if it’s this or a compliment on my bhuna from the man himself that has me beaming with satisfaction! (To be fair, a third possibility could be the Prosecco!).
The pride however, continues and my limited kitchen skills are transformed under Prav’s watchful eye. I go from a woman who has never cooked rice from scratch (micro rice is far too convenient) to the proud owner of a fluffy, aroma infused masterpiece. This wonderful feeling of culinary achievement grew even further when I became chapatti maker extraordinaire, replacing my rolling- pin-in-a-play-doh-kitchen memory with one that saw me roll the perfect circle from my simple, rustic dough.
I can’t wait to show off my newly-acquired authentic Indian cooking skills. I just know that every time I eat a pakora I’m going to proudly point out that I can make them… from scratch. I’ve certainly moved on from microwave rice preferring to make my own in an aromatic bath of spices – move over Uncle Ben, it’s Auntie Holly that the nieces and nephews are visiting for tea now!
For more information, prices and to book please click here.
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