There’s a restaurateur about the city who calls himself The Secret Jozi Chef, and after spending a delightful evening with him and 19 other guests, I believe he should be a secret no more.
Paul Maciel recently opened The Cookery beneath his Italian restaurant Pronto, which is located at The Colony on Jan Smuts Avenue.
The Cookery provides an experience that is nothing short of a foodie’s ideal date night, or friends’ night out, considering you’re the same type of foodie as I am. Not only do I muster every bit of appreciation I possibly can for delectable dishes, but I gain just as much pleasure from rolling up my sleeves, equipping myself with a chopping knife and being presented with beautiful, fresh produce in a gorgeous kitchen.
It was a freezing winter’s evening the day I was scheduled to attend the Naples-inspired cooking class, which I had anticipated for over a month. Upon entering, I was welcomed by gas heaters, wine, an antipasti platter and a long table decorated with deep purple lilies and sparkling silverware.
Twenty guests, including myself, attended the cooking class and for the first time, I could not find anything that could have made it a richer food experience.
Four guests were allocated to each of the kitchen’s five cooking stations. There were 10 dishes prepared: eight savoury dishes and two desserts. Each group prepared different recipes and at the end of the evening, it was a true feast with the slurping of spaghetti, lots of laughter and plenty of wine to go around.
The beauty about these cooking classes is that Paul selects simple dishes using minimal ingredients, yet each dish has depth and body. It teaches you that quality ingredients and good seasoning are often the keys to great food.
The evening’s cooking menu showcased a variety of seafood, chicken and vegetarian dishes. While some flavour combinations were not to my liking (due to personal preferences), these hit the spot flawlessly:
- Zuppa di Cozze: A simple sauté of mussels.
The mussels were steamed in a tomato-based sauce flavoured with white wine, garlic, onion and celery. The flavours developed as the sauce simmered and the slight tang of the tomatoes complemented the fresh saltiness of the mussels.
- Suppli’ di Riso: Deep-fried risotto balls.
If ever I had to splurge a little on a dish, my money would be on this one. Long-grain risotto balls were filled with a mixture of parmesan, parsley, prosciutto and mozzarella. The filled risotto balls were rolled in breadcrumbs and shallow-fried — by far the best thing I’ve eaten this month. It’s hard to believe that a golf ball-sized snack could be bursting with that much flavour, but you have to try it.
- Spaghetti allo scoglio: A traditional Naples seafood spaghetti.
This is a perfect main course dish and is perfectly simple to prepare. Fresh clams, prawns, mussels and calamari are cooked in a tomato and white wine sauce, which has a kick of fresh red chilli, and is tossed in piping hot spaghetti and garnished with parsley. Simple, clean and elegant.
- Torta di Caprese: A chocolate almond cake from the island of Capri.
I’m a lover of all things chocolate, so I easily preferred this dessert to the ricotta-filled cannoli. For those who are gluten conscious, this is a flour-free cake. Butter, almonds, sugar, bittersweet chocolate and eggs are all you need. The baking process is a little technical but the results don’t disappoint. It’s dense and delicious.
The Cookery’s classes are tastefully done and the experience is affordable with an average price of R520 per person, including wine.
All in all, the experience was “perfetto!”
*This article appeared in the Financial Mail.