Embracing Food Culture at the Sydney Seafood School

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I’m of the belief that food offers an invaluable window into a culture, and that the cooking of it is as instructive as the tasting of it.

Korean BBQ makes use of fatty cuts of pork and beef because the extra fat was a vital part of the diet during the country’s poor, post-war days.

Paella was most often cooked by men over an outdoor fire, which gave rise to the dish’s smoky flavours.

The popular Australian Anzac Biscuit came into prominence because its ingredients were cheap and it kept well for long amounts of time, making it a great ration for soldiers abroad during World War I.

Every food tells a story, and we learn this story through not only the tasting of the food, but also experiencing the process of creating it.

I’d previously taken a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, so when I was offered the chance to take a cooking class in Australia, I leapt at the opportunity.

Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, Thailand
My last foray into a cooking class was in Chiang Mai, all the way back in February 2013.

There was just one problem…

I’ve never been particularly confident in the kitchen. Oh, I can make a mean peanut butter French toast or cook up an order of scrumptious Snickerdoodles, but put a new recipe in front of me and I go to pieces.

So when the Sydney Seafood School invited me to take a seafood cooking class at their studio in the Sydney Fish Markets, I’ll admit to being just a bit daunted.

Strike that: I actually considered cancelling just because the idea of having to cook a strange new dish with a bunch of strangers was making me anxious to the point that I didn’t even eat breakfast or lunch on the day of my class.

But I’m a journalist, dammit! There was a story to be told and by God, I was going to tell it.

Demonstration

Upon arriving at the iconic Sydney Fish Markets, it might be a bit hard to find the Sydney Seafood School. It’s located inside the complex on the car park side, with its entrance opposite Doyle’s Restaurant.

After making my way upstairs, I was immediately struck by the fact I was something of an oddity in the class. In a group of maybe 20-25 people, I was the only one who wasn’t either a couple or a group of friends.

Still, none of that mattered once we’d made our way into our classroom where we’d learn how to make seafood paella.

I fell in love with paella at an adorable little Spanish restaurant in Nanjing, so I was pretty excited to try my hand at making it – even if prawns, crabs, and squid are vaguely terrifying in their uncooked form.

The demonstration takes place in an amphitheatre style setting with big screens overhead to illustrate what the head chef is doing, and it’s all done at a pace that is easy to follow. I won’t say that I remembered everything when it came time to move into the kitchen, but I learned a thing or ten.

Sydney Seafood School classroom
A top of the line lecture theatre is a great introduction to the meal you’re about to prepare.

Preparation

Once we’d seen how it was done, we were assigned into groups and given the opportunity to get our hands dirty.

Paired up with a pair of older nurses from the northern beaches, I found myself with the ruggedly manly task of shelling prawns, cracking open crabs, and dissecting squid while the ladies shelled peas, stirred the ingredients, and de-bearded the mussels.

Cooked crab and shrimp
My handiwork after its stint in the firing line. Not too shabby!

I won’t lie and say we were flawless in our execution. I’m pretty sure our group asked more questions than the rest.

What I did appreciate was that the two chefs on hand were never condescending or displeased with our questions, nor did they rush through things in a way that left us none the wiser.

And, to my surprise, this nervous cook-in-training found himself feeling quite confident around the kitchen. I won’t say I was our fearless leader, but I definitely felt confident enough to take the lead when it was necessary.

Stirring seafood paella
The paella slowly starts to come together.

Degustation

Rookies though we may be, I think you’ll agree the finished product looked pretty special.

A delicious seafood paella
The finished product – a scrumptious seafood paella with mussels, pippies, prawns, crab, and squid.

With our work in the kitchen done, we were asked to take our finished product through to the dining room which we’d laid out earlier.

Not only were we able to sample the paella we’d slaved over in the kitchen, but our meal was also accompanied by a complimentary bottle of wine and a selection of delicious Lindt chocolates.

Our cooking class had become a rather sophisticated dining experience, and it was a great way to sample the fruits of our labour and share in the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done.

With a full belly and a sizeable container of leftovers to take home with me, I left feeling very glad that I hadn’t given into my anxieties and stayed home.

Summation

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the Sydney Seafood School. Not being somebody who does a lot of cooking and being quite nervous about doing it with a bunch of strangers, I was pleasantly surprised just how much fun I had and just how not awful I was at it.

The class sizes are large, but with multiple chefs on hand and small groups assigned to each cooking station, it feels like a really warm and personal environment.

I’ve not done other cooking classes in the west, but my team-mates assured me that it was not common to get to actually cook the food. Often the demonstration moves straight into the dining.
For me, the hands on portion was the most fun element. I was a bit dubious about pulling a squid’s peak out or removing the ‘mustard’ from a freshly shelled crab, but it meant the steps stuck with me far more than they’d have done if I’d just attended a lecture demonstration.

What I took away from the class is that it was really suited to anybody with an interest in cooking. Some of my classmates were people who cooked regularly, while others were like me – those with survival cooking skills but no real gourmet experience.

Want to Take a Cooking Class at the Sydney Seafood School?

The Sydney Seafood School offers a range of different cooking classes including Moroccan cuisine, BBQ, Mediterranean, Thai,Italian, sushi, Spanish, and much more.

Celebrity chefs make periodic appearances and offer classes as well, and you can check their calendar to see what cooking classes they’re offering each week.

Prices range between $90 and $165.

You can find out more by visiting the Sydney Seafood School website.

Your Say

Have you ever taken a cooking class? Where was it, what did you make, and how was the experience?

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Disclaimer: My cooking class was provided courtesy of the Sydney Seafood School. All opinions are my own. If I hate something, you’ll be the first to know!

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