Back in 2013, my father-in-law generously gifted K and I a gift voucher to Sydney Seafood School for Christmas. He had attended a cooking class there with Giovanni Pilu earlier that year and enjoyed it so much that he wanted to give us the same experience. After inexplicably sitting on the voucher for nearly eleven months without redeeming it, we finally realised that we needed to book something quickly before the voucher expired!
Luckily, we were able to book ourselves into a seafood masterclass with Frank Camorra of MoVida fame, right on the weekend before Christmas. What luck!
Scheduled to run from 12-3pm, K and I made the decision to get to the Fish Markets early and have a quick bite to eat downstairs in the market before heading upstairs to the Seafood School. It was a good idea on our part, and I strongly urge others to consider doing the same. By the time you finish watching the demonstration, get around to cooking the same dishes yourself, and finally plate up and sit down and eat, it’ll be well into mid-afternoon and your blood sugar levels will have dropped dramatically! Fortify yourself before you go into a class!
The classes are extremely well organised. Around four kitchen assistants are around to help facilitate the guest chef’s time in the demonstration kitchen, clearing away dirty dishes, preparing ingredients, and basically doing all the dirty work on the kitchen that is much less exciting than doing the actual cooking itself.
For our class, Frank demonstrated the cooking of a number of home-style Spanish dishes. There was no fiddling around with the beautiful tapas style dishes that characterise the menu at his MoVida restaurants – this was all simple, hearty, home-style cooking just like Mama used to make.
- Bunuelos de Bacalao (Salt Cod Fritters)
- Chocos Amarilla (Cuttlefish in Saffron Sauce)
- Patatas Alinadas con Caballa (Warm Potato Salad with Mackerel)
- Atun Encebollado (Tuna Cooked in Onion & Sherry Sauce)
- Gambas con Habichuelas (Prawns with White Beans)
All dishes were inspired from the travels that he undertook in Andalusia while writing his latest cookbook – MoVida Solera.
There were a few laughs along the way as Frank and the kitchen assistants bantered about ingredient quantities (they halved the ingredients in some recipes and not others, which made for some confusion!), and Frank regaled the class with tales from his travels, and the inspiration for all the recipes. It was a lesson not only in food preparation, but also in food culture.
Once Frank finished his demonstration, we entered the large kitchen workshop. It’s a remarkable space with multiple work areas and room enough for sixty people, with six people to each work station. We chose a workstation and introduced ourselves to our kitchen companions for the next hour – a couple there celebrating a birthday, and a mother and son duo.
Each group of six was expected to tackle all five dishes that we had seen Frank make earlier. K and I put our hands up to do the Bunuelos de Bacalao and the Patatas Alinadas con Caballa – which, I’m not too modest to say, were the two standout dishes when it came time to sit down and try what we had made! The batter I made for the salt cod fritters was even praised by Frank Camorra itself as being really light, which made for fluffier fritters after deep-frying!
Parts of each recipe had been started for us already – the Gambas con Habichuelas for example required that the stock simmer for nearly an hour beforehand. The kitchen assistants really think of everything!
Posing for the cameras…unfortunately the opportunity to take a photo with Frank passed us by as every time he walked past our work station, our hands were busy stirring a pot or de-veining prawns!
When it came time to dish up and place everything we had made on the table, we were simply astounded with the amount of food we had managed to make between the six of us in only an hour! It was a real feast, and we all ended up taking leftovers home to enjoy for dinner that night.
I loaded up my plate with a bit of everything – the fritters and the potato salad were definitely highlights for me, but I also enjoyed the Atun Encebollado as something with quite a sweet and subtle flavour. It’s the dish that you could have on its own with some crusty bread and be perfectly satisfied!
Our experience at the Sydney Seafood School was simply spectacular – I would go back in a heartbeat and learn from other inspirational chefs like Frank Camorra at any time. In fact, I’m eyeing an upcoming class with Guillaume Brahimi in April…
And to finish off, the recipe for the potato salad, probably the easiest recipe of the day that will take you barely any time at all to prep and cook!
Patatas Alinadas con Caballa (Warm Potato Salad with Mackerel)
- 1kg Nicola potatoes, scrubbed
- Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1x 300g piece Spanish mackerel fillet, skin off, pin-boned
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chipped
- 2 teaspoons salt flakes
- 1/4 cup chopped chives
- Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and add a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 35 minutes, until potatoes are cooked.
- Meanwhile, heat a frying pan, add a drizzle of oil and add mackerel. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper and pan-fry for 2-3 minutes each side until cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside at room temperature.
- Drain cooked potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel while still warm and place in a bowl.
- Add onion, garlic, olive oil and salt while potatoes are warm, and crush with a fork until potatoes have broken down into small-medium chunks.
- Layer potatoes onto a serving plate, break mackerel into pieces, lay over the top, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.
This is a really simple and filling salad that would work well as a side dish for a larger dinner party!