So a few weeks ago I was randomly invited to a healthy cooking master class on Twitter by Simplyhealth, an insurance company looking to promote – you guessed it – a long life through diet and healthy living. Despite not blogging about either I thought – fuck it, I’ll go. This is the closest I’ve ever got to my food blogging dream – getting shit for free in return for writing about it. Even if I was selling myself out to the man, man. I like free shit.
I turned up on the day late, apprehensive and disheveled after sleeping in (an 11am start on a Sunday, I mean really). The class was being held at The Underground Cookery School near Old Street – no I’ve never heard of it either but it’s awfully nice. Stairs take you down to a long room, book ended by two kitchens and divided by sliding doors. Plus there was a ladies loo – which I ducked into to fill in my eyebrows because I hadn’t had time to put ANY face on. I simply MUST have eyebrows when meeting strangers I might have to impress.
In the room, lots of people – sorry, women bar two men and the kitchen staff – were milling around self-consciously, supping on carrot juice and nibbling celery like they REALLY liked it, honest. Tanked up on porridge and still clutching a Starbucks cappuccino (why didn’t I ask for a skinny?) I forcibly injected myself into some nice looking people’s conversation, like that scene in Bridget Jones where she sidles up to Salmon Rushdie and a group of intellectuals then asks where the toilet is. That’s how I felt. I said I’M MINGLING loudly to introduce myself – hoping everyone will laugh awkwardly with me – and they sort of did, which is nice.
Now, when people say healthy cooking master class, I think of a school assembly like scenario where you’re being lectured on the evils of cheese and everyone rallies together and declares their love of Edam in retaliation. What I didn’t expect, stupidly, was for everyone to bang on about how much they love dieting and exercise and general healthiness. Which is what happened. Not having much in common with anyone who really seriously diets and exercises, I had to call up the slightly bonkers year I went through a while ago rigidly following Atkins to try and fit in. Everyone thought I was much more interesting afterwards.
But I’ll tell you what standing around with a group of fitness obsessed, healthy eating fanatics talking about food is like – a bit boring. This is what it must have been like listening to me, I thought, banging on about carbs that year. Deny yourself anything and it’s all you can think about, talk about, and dream about. Beautiful, beautiful carbs. Yawn.
So it wasn’t a moment too late when we were introduced to nutritionist Kate Cook (I mean can that name be ANY more apt, really) who was going to talk to us about – right again! Healthy living and promoting a long life through diet. She had some very interesting catchphrases, my personal fave being: “Genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger!”
She also had some very sound advice which, and sorry to get boring, backs up everything I learnt from carb-starvation for a year – essentially that sugar is the devil and we should all be avoiding it. And all that other stuff like there is as much sugar in a glass of OJ as a full fat Coke. She didn’t specifically say that but it IS true.
But, you can’t actually avoid sugar and carbohydrates for the rest of your life, so if you do want to live relatively normally without being a fat bastard – try this nifty little motto of hers, based on the Glycemic Index:
Sweet, fluffy, white food burns high
Thick, fibrous, protein rich food burns low
Basically, high is bad, low is good, like a sort of diet version of Animal Farm. There was also some other talk about numbskulls living inside you and burning up all the sugar you consume, but I won’t be able to do this explanation justice and it probably won’t make sense coming from anyone but her. And she probably asked us not to quote her on that specifically as well, for fear of sounding silly.
After our little chat, we all migrated back into the kitchen where – I neglected to mention – four chefs were bouncing about, cooking and banging things and generally guffawing at one another. Mocking our celery sticks with their sweet, delicious sugary carbonated drinks – the smug bastards. Only kidding, they were lovely really. But they were drinking a lot of Lilt.
First, we broke down a whole chicken. After a few bleats of protest from the vegetarians – which were ignored – we gloved up and starting carving away at those plump little buggers like we hadn’t eaten in a week. I was good at the breast (naturally) but rubbish at hacking the joints in half. We salted, peppered and oiled – and then stuck them in a frying pan, squealing with delight as if we had never cooked a bit of bird before.
After that, we moved onto the mackerel. Everyone wore gloves but me cos I’m WELL ‘ARD and wanted to show off. I was just getting into my stride when this girl next to me jerked her hand like a reanimated corpse mid-filleting and knocked a full glass of Lilt over me – carelessly left next to us fumbling wannabes by the chef. Not a strong look. Missed most of that bit out. But I DID nab me a free apron in the process. Score.
After that we were at the veg station, but all the veg was done so we just stood about and made some horseradish cream (an unmitigated disaster due to the fact we had run out of horseradish, calling on a tube of wasabi paste instead). Then we peeled and poached some pears while the chef laughed at us because someone asked, “what’s this?” while picking up a slice of aubergine. An incredulous “Aren’t you a food blogger?” was then met with “yes, but isn’t it from the same family as a courgette?” from someone else trying to be nice. Which was then met with a resounding “NO” and a scoff. But at least I won the whipping cream contest (all in the wrists) before accidentally going too far and churning it into butter. Bit of a useless bunch, really.
After that we FINALLY got to sit down and eat our spoils. You know when someone offers you cakes from a little Tupperware box, and you’re all amazed and like “Wow did you make this?” and they beam all proudly and go “No my four year old made them!” And you’re like EURGH and politely put it back in the box because God knows where their little critter’s hands have been. It was a bit like that. My chicken was so over seasoned I had a spontaneous fit of coughing. I’m just not sure any of us are qualified enough to serve food to strangers, even supervised by professionals.
Having said that everything was delicious and I ate it all up like a greedy little goblin. We started with mackerel, boiled beetroot and the so-called horseradish cream, followed by chicken and lentils, moving on to poached pears in red wine sauce and ice cream (for the naughty). Interestingly, the meal was pretty much low carb – no grains. Told you. They also served us wine. So much wine. Thank God I sat next to the drinkers (we just tend to gravitate toward one another, don’t you think) – because we pretty much finished ALL the wine between us. By the end of the day, we had gone from being awkward dieters to best of buds, spouting words of foodie wisdom (in my case: “God knows why they invited me to a healthy cooking class, my blog is REALLY SWEARY”. Seriously though, why did they invite me?). There was even hugging at the end. Ah, wine makes everything better. Same time next month, foodies?
PS Sorry this is so late. I’m incredibly lazy.
Check out more cool Underground Cookery School stuff.