Chandra and I had a great time during our holidays. Our holidays in 2013 was to go see Katrina and Fred of Pizzini Wines in King Valley, Victoria. We cooked, stay with Nonna Rossa who is in her late 80s. But let me tell you, she is so strong and healthy.
I wrote about my cooking class in Pizzini Wines here. Katrina planned the cooking event so well, made me talk while they had breakfast. I shared my stories of my Nyonya background and my early years learning cooking. They were STUNNED, beyond words. I then realize what a great gift I am blessed with even though then I was not happy about it.
Chandra and I truly had a great time with Fred and Katrina who showed us around their big estate.
Someone was invited to the cooking class, and I love her write up which she describe everything we did. For your reading pleasure. Thanks to Food on tap.
Pearly Kee Cooking Classes
It’s AFL Grand Final weekend and having seen your team retire from the competition weeks ago, your heart just isn’t in it. All the more reason to head out of town and take part in a hands on Malaysian cooking class of course!
Alfred and Katrina Pizzini of Pizzini Wines have recently returned from a vacation in Penang where they met up with Pearly Kee, a fifth generation Nyonya, who runs wonderful hands on cooking classes and food tours. They were very inspired by their experiences there so on discovering Pearly was planning a trip to Australia, they invited her to run a class at Katrina’s A Tavola Cooking School at the winery in the King Valley. This was going to be a once-off and certainly a little out of the box as the aromas wafting out from the kitchen are generally of the meditteranean kind.
On arrival at Pizzini, we are warmly greeted in the front tasting room by Katrina and Pearly. Once the group of about ten very enthusiastic students are all present and accounted for, we sit together at the large communal table and are plied with good coffee and chocolate cake (recipe provided) from Katrina’s kitchen and given an introduction to what we are about to experience. Penang Nyonya cooking is a fascinating historical combination of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese cuisine and we are about to learn about it in a most authentic way through Pearly’s warm, generous and informative teaching skills.
Katrina’s kitchen is beautifully set up to cater for groups such as these. We all stand around the large prep table in the centre of the kitchen, stoves on one side, bench top on the other with a large glass window looking back out towards the tasting room. Throughout the morning we attract an audience as we listen carefully and work diligently on our dishes and suffice to say that as the cooking progresses, their faces at the window display perhaps not just curiosity but a little envy knowing that at some stage, this food is to be consumed, but only by us!
Pearly introduces us to each of the four dishes by explaining what the ingredients provide not only from a flavor point of view, but what many of the health benefits are. We have many herbs and vegetables to chop and pound and we proceed to work on several dishes to be then put aside in readiness for our cooking frenzy later in the morning. Throughout the entire class, Pearly answers all of our queries without hesitation, but never losing the flow whilst imparting her deep knowledge of the cuisine. She shows us how to prepare all of the ingredients in the correct manner, including that age old query about lemongrass, how much of the stick gets used or discarded and how to prepare and trim a pineapple without losing any of that valuable sweet flesh.
Our first dish is called Pai Ti, a wonderful snack to serve with drinks or simply to include on a table with other courses. It consists of very delicate small shells made from a very light batter with a filling of chicken or pork mince and finely julienned vegetables. The cooking process for the shells is very quick, dipping the hot moulds first into the batter then into hot oil using a Pai Ti mould, taking literally seconds for the shells to harden at which time they are placed on to a tray and can then be filled just before serving.
Next comes the chicken rendang using mostly familiar ingredients but the introduction of candle-nuts provided some curiosity (macadamia nuts can substitute apparently). It was at this point that I was struck once again by how spoiled we are in this great city we live in with almost every suburb having an Asian grocery store with shelves stocked full of ingredients once considered to be quite rare but have now become staples of our kitchens. The candle-nuts were part of the curry paste we prepared but also included were galangal and fresh turmeric, temporarily turning our finger tips yellow. We all proudly displayed these hard worked and stained later as a true sign of our dedication to the cause. In the preparation of the paste, we used what appeared to us to be an intimidating amount of fresh chillies, but with all seeds carefully removed, the seeds holding all the intense heat, we were all pleasantly surprised with the results – no fire-hoses required to cool down any burning mouths later. With the presence of lemongrass, shallots and fresh kaffir lime leaves, the smell rising from our work bench and later the stove was very exciting and if you closed your eyes for a second, one could have imagined oneself in an open market somewhere in Penang, and not in the town of Whitfield, Victoria.
Everybody loves a bowl of Laksa and Pearly’s is a Nyonya Assam Laksa based on a very clean, spicey broth without the addition of coconut milk. The spice mix we prepared for this consisted of all the usual suspects like fresh turmeric, lemongrass, chillies and shallots. For some the introduction to prawn paste or belachan came with the initial shock of that nasty odour that comes with it, which one soon grows to accept as it is a key ingredient in not only this style of cuisine, but other Asian styles as well and the dishes cannot shine without it, as stinky as it is. For the stock we learned how to make our own tamarind paste, easily done by dropping the pods into some water to soak for a little while then gently squeezing the pods creating a lovely fresh paste, fresher and cleaner in taste to anything you buy off the shelves ready made. The stock also includes the use of ginger flower or torch ginger. Most of us in the class had not even seen or used this very pretty herbaceous plant before and were excited to learn how to use and prepare the bud. We all added it to our list of ingredients we could now identify and name next time we were wandering around the Asian food market. We used fresh tuna in this soup which keeps it very light and together with all of the various spices and herbs, makes for an extremely healthy dish. Coconut milk was optional apparently but I don’t think anyone missed it.
The final dish we prepared was called Sambal Goreng, a prawn dish served with what Pearly referred to, humorously as the Nyonya style ‘white sauce’. This title does it no justice at all as it turns out to be a creamy and spicy coconut milk sauce cooked in the wok and served with the prawns, and a fresh sambal, again using only fresh ingredients that we were now so familiar with including tamarind, lemongrass, shrimp paste and this time raw cashew nuts. This to me seemed to be a perfect example of comfort food, Nyonya style – it was delicious.
Throughout the duration of the class, not only did we have Pearly’s constant guidance and instruction, Katrina constantly moved around the kitchen, ensuring we all had everything we needed to add to the smooth running of the class. We also had Fred Pizzini, the proud owner of a new iPad tablet, hovering throughout, taking photos and probably hoping for some tasty morsels we may have. No doubt this provided a pleasant distraction away from the tasting room for him where you can usually find him chatting amiably to folks dropping in, or bending their ears, depending which way you look at it, and always with a huge smile. He will never hesitate to share with you the delights of consuming their excellent wines, and always with a promise of what is to come next year.
So our food is ready and we almost reluctantly leave the kitchen and seat ourselves at the table which has magically been set for us, various wine glasses included, with the promise what is to come – perhaps a glass of Pinot Grigio or a Shiraz, we’ll see. But first a toast to all of us- a glass of the 2012 Prosecco with a slice of ginger and a hint of mint, well earned after our 4 hour stint.
There is a buzz of excitement in the room as we are all anticipating our lunch to come. The food is served and we all begin, tentatively at first, but Pearly was right – all the food has a balance, a freshness and fullness to it, and the heat is just right. The chatting subsides for a time whilst we enjoy all of our dishes, learned and cooked together, in such convivial company.
We all feel very fortunate to have attended Pearly’s class and for it to have been in the beautiful northeast region of Victoria, at Pizzini in the King Valley, on a cold winter’s day, that one day in September where apparently there is a football match going on somewhere.
Email addresses are exchanged, tweet sites are updated, more photos taken, aprons returned and we all say our goodbyes.
Pearly runs home cooking classes in Penang and will also give you plenty of hints and advice as to where to find great food, markets and runs corporate cook outs as well.
Pearly’s Penang Home Cooking Class
Katrina has a broad range of cooking classes, schedule running for most of the year with both mid week and weekend options, vouchers available. She was so taken with the results of our class, she announced that she would be including something from her Nyonya experience into her cooking school. And we believe that Nonna approves.
A Tavola Cooking School