By Jamie Drummond
It has to be said that a Sunday breakfast of Dim Sum is one of the very best cures for the crippling payback brought on by a Saturday night of indulgence. There is certainly something quite restorative that comes from the consumption of the many dumplings on offer that always sits so well in an uneasy belly. With this in mind I prepared myself for a Sunday morning hands-on Dim Sum cooking class by having a heavy “boys night in” with my kittycat Harvey, three 80’s science fiction films, and a few of bottles of fine wine… my girlfriend was out of town you see.
Upon arriving at the Nella Cucina cooking school on Bathurst Street in a rather bedraggled state, I was delighted to discover that the class had been a sell out and there would be a full house, with almost forty of us present, correct and ready to make dumplings. As the piercing winter sunlight streamed into the schoolroom through the large east-facing windows and I slowly sipped upon a refreshing glass of grapefruit juice, I gradually began to shake off the symptoms from the nasty case of wine flu I had contracted upon the night previous.
As my fellow students and I took our places around the generously sized cooking studio we were warmly welcomed by the radiant Joanne Lusted, Nella Cucina’s Director and Resident Chef. Chef Lusted first introduced Chef Vanessa Yeung of Aphrodite Cooks and then her lovely mother Millie who would both be leading the class. Chef Yeung began the class by taking us through the construction of a special Year of The Tiger dumpling containing some beautifully seasoned ground bison. These potstickers were my first foray into the wild world of dumpling making and I just had to dive in head first. Under the expert tutelage of Millie I managed to craft my very first dumpling, quickly learning that the most common mistake of the amateur dumpling maker is to overfill the wrapper. I certainly found the trickiest part of the process to be the folding of the four pleats that help seal the dumpling and give it its distinctive shape. Watching Millie’s dextrous digits at work on the Won Ton wrappers I became suddenly cognisant of just how pudgy and clumsy my own were…
Next up Chef Lusted split us into five groups and we took our places at one of the five cooking stations where we had another three dumpling experts to lead us through our Dim Sum extravaganza. My friendly group’s first station was again with Millie where she took us through the steps necessary to produce a dinky pork, shrimp, and Chinese black mushroom dumpling for steaming. My skills had mysteriously improved somewhat between stations and so after my first attempt I was simply bursting with dumpling confidence, especially after some positive reinforcement from my teacher.
Millie told us that the end result should look like a beautiful rose. Well mine actually did… albeit a slightly floury-looking rose full of minced raw pork and shrimp. Our group’s steam basket looked pretty damn good at the end of our session. Go Team!
Our new found dumpling confidence took a sharp nose dive at the next station though. We were instructed exactly how to make delightful little puff pasty encased barbecue pork dumplings. Our skilled instructor’s demonstration dumpling looked amazing. Our efforts on the other hand… not so great. She assured us that after baking they would be just fine. I think that she only said that as she saw the upset on my face.
We then moved on to our third station where the friendly Fransisco (Good Chinese name there!) showed us how to stuff Asian Eggplants with a mixture of minced shrimp. This was fun but quite tricky as the filling seemed to get everywhere. I also had to agree with one of my fellow students when she told me that she found the feeling of tapioca powder on one’s hands to be quite unsettling…
I seem to recall that it was at this point I suddenly realised that the class was on the whole a female one, with a couple of token fellows here and there. All of the other students I spoke with were extremely friendly and certainly very modest regarding any cooking skills that they may have possessed. There was a really good energy in the room which of course made it a great place to learn.
Icky feelings from tapioca powdered hands aside (try it, you’ll see what I mean), after Francisco fried the wee buggers off they looked and smelled fantastic! Speaking of olfactory delights… at this point the smells of the kitchen were playing with my emotions and I began to realise just how hungry I was… and then I realised just how much food we were producing… Excellent! This day was getting better and better.
Next we headed off to a sunny station near the windows where we were schooled in making some cute little coconut tarts and a little cup of almond-scented evaporated milk stiffened with agar agar that would be served with a little tropical fruit slalad. I screwed up on the mixing of the agar agar though, and our tutor had to sieve the mixture as due to my errors it was full of rather unappealing glutinous lumps. Perhaps I was being paranoid but I think I got some pretty dirty looks from the rest of my group at this point. Whoops! Sorry ladies…
At our final station we prepared some vegetarian Soi Gau “Water Dumplings” filled with water chestnuts and chopped Napa Cabbage. I really got into the swing of things here and a fellow student and myself must have made around fifteen each.
Chef Lusted gave us all a brief lesson in the best method for dry frying Potstickers and the smells of delicious Dim Sum began to fill the room. At this point in time my tortured stomach gave out a rather suspect grumbling sound that I foolishly attempted to cover with a kind-of cough/sigh hybrid… which fooled absolutely nobody. More funny glances from my group…
At last it was time to enjoy all of the delightful food that we had collectively spent the last 2 hours creating, and when the dumplings were finally served it became rapidly apparent that I was certainly not THE worst dumpling maker in the world. No, I think that award had to go to a fellow in the group behind me who recognised his own dumpling, a potsticker that really looked as if it had been through the wars. All of our Dim Sum tasted wonderfully fresh with bright and vibrant flavours. It was a very fitting and satisfying end to what was a most enjoyable and educational session. As the class proved itself to be so popular I am sure that Chef Lusted will choose to repeat the class in the near future. For details on all future classes please visit Nella Cucina’s website.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he cannot wait to make dumplings at home for the very first time.
Mmmmm… now you got me thinking about dumplings