Sunday, 11 July 2010

Cooking by numbers?

I was forwarded a link the other day to a Tourism Tasmania Spring Media Release which is a Cooking Class Special, and which prompted me to reflect on cooking classes and how they are evolving.

I imagine if you use the terminology ‘cooking class’ today you’d get a very different interpretation to one from 20 years ago. In years gone by, the Adult Ed quarterly insert in The Mercury was basically your only cooking class option – for which we should all be eternally grateful.

As highlighted on Tourism Tasmania’s site, today’s cooking classes are way bigger than Ben Hur, and also encompass, in many cases, the teacher’s lifestyle.

Agrarian Kitchen in Lachlan, Red Feather Inn at Hadspen and Companion Bakery in Oatlands are just three which illustrate the point in case.

Whilst Rodney Dunn and partner Severine seemed to lead the recent charge of lifestyle cooking classes in Tasmania, there have been many precedents set well before this era.
The link between food, cooking classes and restaurants is obvious (as in the case, currently, of Piermont), with many restaurants in the past offering various master classes. One such class which immediately springs to mind for me is the set of classes held at the former Gondwana (now Piccalilly) under the tutelage of old friend Paul Foreman.

The menu at Gondwana was, for me personally, an ideal one which catered to all my tastes whatever the mood, so I made a point of eating there regularly (and religiously on my birthday each year!). When they advertised a series of in-house cooking classes encompassing all my favourite menu items, naturally Rita was there with bells on!

The classes were an eye opener, and even more so, introduced me to such delights as smoked paprika and truffle oil, evermore to be stocked in Rita’s pantry as vital basics. They were also conducted in a most civilised manner with participants observing Paul in the kitchen prepping and cooking up a storm (if you have ever ventured into the kitchen there, you’ll understand how it would be impossible for more than 2 people to comfortably cook/move around in that kitchen space, hence us observing but not actively cooking, which actually suited lazy Rita much better!) then sitting down in the restaurant along with Paul, and owners Steven and Shane, to devour everything in sight with matched wines.

I thought Hobart was going to set a precedent many moons ago too, when the cooking school was built on the upper level of what is now the Sandy Bay Woolworth’s car park area, and is currently, I think, a doctor’s surgery. Was it Michelle Round who started it? I really held out great hopes for that cooking school establishing and sealing Tasmania’s fate as what we all knew to be so, even at that time – a leader in regional fine produce and food.

I was sad to see it close down after a period of huge success but dwindling popularity later. Like many great concepts here in Tasmania, sustainability is an ongoing issue.

Likewise, Karen Goodwin-Roberts’ kids holiday cooking classes (Kids in the Kitchen) at Drysdale were inspirational, and illustrate the total lack of vision demonstrated by those in control at that time who neglected to continue these classes for young people who have since evolved to that very vulnerable obese youth age group. I spoke recently to a young chef who confessed that her desire to enter the trade had started at Karen’s kids cooking classes at Drysdale many years ago.

Although (Elizabeth) Buffy Godfrey is more well known these days for her death, and the circumstances surrounding it (ie the right to take one’s own life campaign), her main raison d’ĂȘtre was most definitely cooking, and teaching everyone around her exactly how to advance their skills in this field. She was a wonderful woman, to whom probably Rita owes her very existence, given that she befriended my newly-wed-and-just-arrived-in-Hobart mother who hadn’t the faintest clue as to how to boil water, let alone actually turn on the stove and produce edible substances for her husband, then first daughter!

Buffy patiently took on the position of on-site maternal influence to mum, and guided her in matters culinary (and cerebral) in 1949 when Hobart really didn’t support (or even tolerate) people in that particular situation at all. Mum had just graduated from Uni and had absolutely no practical skills (which didn’t involve reading a book) at all.

Anyone who remembers Buffy’s TVT6 cooking program (Carefree Cooking) will remember a practical and sensible woman who had a fabulous repertoire of skills, knowledge and good sense, and a down-to-earth way of demonstrating same. Her enlightened method of explaining how and why we should adopt a particular technique would guarantee stardom in today’s glitterati of celebrity chefs, but unfortunately (or maybe not) she is a little-known pioneer in Tasmania’s cooking history.

Numerous noteworthy people have contributed to advancing our state to this prime position with so much to offer those interested in the food and cooking lifestyle, and I love observing the results. Long may it continue.

Posted on by Rita


Christina said...

Unbelievable Rita, Mum and I were only talking about Mrs. Godfrey last night. I was saying that I still only buy 4 roses flour because it was advertised on her show and I loved the jingle.
One, two, three.... four roses.

Rita said...

Hey Christina - you always said we had a connection! Once again we see why! Get outa my head!

Christina said...

But I like it here. It's warm, cosy and familiar.

The Passionate Gardener said...

What about Judith Sweet?

Rita said...

Hi PG - I started writing about Judith following the paragraphs about Buffy Godfrey, then thought of quite a few more people who had also contributed, so decided to round it up with the final paragraph you see there which basically says "numerous noteworthy people have contributed.." etc. A sweeping statement I agree, and one which definitely doesn't go anywhere near paying due tribute to people such as Judith, who warrants a post of her own.

anon said...

Judith Sweet was the first teacher at Woolworths in Sandy Bay - when Purity ran the cooking school.

Anonymous said...

oh and by the way karen goodwin roberts only managed , the classes for kids , its was her staff who actually did it as group[ effort again hierachy feeding their own egos im afraid