It’s 6pm and I have just caught the number 3 bus to the end of the line. But I am anticipating something delicious awaiting me.
I am standing opposite the village close to Lyall Bay and staring up at a big black box on the side of a ground floor flat illuminated by a white glow. It is 5:45. Now, it is April, so daylight saving has ended and it is already dark. The street is only lit by the amber sigh of street lamps and the houses on the hill peering down on me. Beside the flat is a alley way, coyly hidden from view, a bit like Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. I peer up again at the box ‘Crave’ it reads.
"The street is only lit by the amber sigh of street lamps and the houses on the hill peering down on me."
No - I have not stumbled upon a private members-only club. I am have found my way to the cosy, hidden cooking school, Crave Cooking School and Production Kitchen. I make my way down the cobbled concrete and follow the fairy lights below a second sign, and then to the streaming white light of the cooking school itself. There, standing at the door, is food photographer and Wellington Foodies founder Lucy Mutch. Next to her is her fellow cooking school owner Marco Costantini. “Hullo!” Lucy greets me with a bustlely warm smile. She is gentle looking, twinkly and has a pleasant dark blond bob. Marco is lean and tall, slightly olive skinned and has grey flecked hair in a sliver fox like fashion. “Welcome to Crave Cooking. Thank you for coming.”
"No - I have not stumbled upon a private members-only club. I am have found my way to the cosy, hidden cooking school, Crave Cooking School and Production Kitchen."
Lucy set up the school to share her love of cooking with Wellington. She is obviously simply mad about food and has shaped her life and work about it. Marco has also a wealth of experience having helped grow Nikau amongst many other Wellington restaurants and cafes. Together they put on regular cooking classes for Wellingtonians to come to, to learn and to eat. The classes are so good that the English newspaper ‘The Independent’ wrote a story about New Zealand and they were the only thing mentioned from Wellington (read the story here)!
Tonight, the class is being taught by Amber Sturtz, a professional chef and texan. I am introduced to Amber who is simply divine, smiley and charming with freckles lightly dusted over her face. Three other women beam at me, all in their mid 50’ish from across the wide metal island that we are gathered around to prepare food on. Two large black ovens flank the front of the room and there is a separate area at the back where Lucy and [insert name here] wash up at the back. Hurrah! No washing up! I am clearly in the right place.
I take a seat next to the ladies and wait for the class to begin. Slowly, other people start to trickle in. It is a pretty small class, which I am starting to realise is very appealing as a post work class. There is a couple in the thirties, a younger couple in their early twenties (it turns out I was a year above the girl at school) and two other friendly girls who have come separately, one as a present from her mum and the other to learn more about cooking. We all band together in the small kitchen at the back of the main street to Lyall Bay and slowly cease talking, and turn to the front. Chef Amber stands there, beaming, like we are little kittens to be taken care of for the evening. “Tonight you will all get to cook a dish each” she explains.
"Chef Amber stands there, beaming, like we are little kittens to be taken care of for the evening."
Crave have an emphasis on simple cooking. They focus the classes around a single theme, whether that be a seasonal vegetable, bread or knife skills. This appeals to someone like me who might feel overwhelmed by the idea of learning to cook something like a ‘north korean chile and spicy foods vs malaysian fusion masterclass’
Tonight the vegetable we are cooking with is the humble Aubergine. We have three dishes we are cooking and are divided into pairs. The lady I am with takes the tofu dish and I take the Aubergine Salad. Amber explains a bit about her background and then tells us that she will be cooking the third dish. I see Lucy lining up wine glasses on the back. I start to realise there will be wine involved, and also that we actually get to EAT the FOOD at the end. I get excited.
Amber starts to get us preparing our meals. First, we slice and dice the Aubergine. She takes us through this step by step. It looks so lovely, all chopped up (and, for the first time in my life, chopped evenly, that I feel an instagram coming on). “Lucy” I hear my name being called just as I am turning up the saturation. Damn! The class has already moved to the front and are getting ready to start cooking the Aubergine on the stove top. Sheepishly, I put the camera in my pocket (by camera I mean cell phone) and scoot up the front. Tonight, I think to myself, I may be here to blog but the food must come first.
"Tonight the vegetable we are cooking with is the humble Aubergine."
We start by pouring oil into the pan and waiting for it to sizzle a little. Amber likes olive oil. She explains it needs to be hot so that when the Aubergine hits it it starts to cook. “it’s like a sponge”. she says. “It will suck up all the oil and not cook right if the oil is too cook”. I realise my Aubergines have up to now been getting no where near enough the tender affection they deserve. We each take our chopped veg and pop it in the pan. Amber answers all the questions of the group happily and is natural yet clear and focused in her teaching. She explains the difference between oils, where she buys her spices and answers any other kinds of questions. She also tells us she does private classes at home with people.
The Aubergine does indeed suck up the oil and then exhale it, leaving a lovely crispyish brown coating. Then we swap with our partner who has prepared tofu. Meanwhile we chop our veggies and make the salad. I easily chat with the other people in my class who have interesting titbits to share.
"“STOP” I yell like Dustin Hoffman running into the church in the movie The Graduate “STOP THE CAR!” We turn around..."I FORGOT MY RECIPES!!""
Finally our dishes all come together. At last! The moment we have all been waiting for! We tuck into our food. Lucy and I take the moment to snap some pictures of us in front of the lovely Crave Cooking chalk board. I finally gobble my food and head outside back into Lyall Bay where Matt is waiting for me in the car. As we are driving away I suddenly realise. “STOP” I yell like Dustin Hoffman running into the church in the movie The Graduate “STOP THE CAR!” We turn around. I rush back inside, at break neck speed, past a shocked looking Lucy, and Amber. “I FORGOT MY RECIPES!!” I sigh relieved. I will be needing these for many dinners and lunches to come! After all, a girl’s gotta eat, right?
Thank you to Crave Cooking School and Production Kitchen for having me for the evening. You can book yourself a class through their website.