What’s Cooking at Leopard’s Leap
For most of us, cooking in a commercial kitchen is something we only experience from our couch. Usually accompanied by the shaking of fists at contestants on cooking shows and running commentary. If this is you, then you’ll love the chance to actually get in the kitchen and cook for yourself at the Leopard’s Leap cooking class series.
Themed classes are held at the wine farm in Franschhoek on either a Thursday morning or a Friday night and are a way to improve your culinary skills, learn from a professional team, and have fun at the same time.
My partner and I recently attended a Friday night class for an Aussie cooking experience. Being that we follow a couple of different Australian cooking shows, this sounded like a tasty, produce-driven concept that we would love, and we were not disappointed. Ebullient head chef Pieter de Jager, conducts the classes, with the help of a few members of his kitchen team and experience manager Wouter.
The Leopard’s Leap kitchen is set up with individual stations and each member of the class dons an apron and is given the recipes for the evening’s cooking. Somebody smart designed the clipboards used – they include a built in glass holder, so you can continue taking notes without putting down your drink (for as long as your note taking lasts that is). Like us, you may find that watching, listening (and drinking) is a far more effective way of bringing character to your dishes.
Our class started off with a steak tartare demo, with tips on cutting and handling of ingredients. The demo also included making mayo, using oysters to emulsify rather than eggs. This lent a delicate but amazing depth of flavour to the sauce. After the demo we were sent off to our respective stations to create our masterpieces.
My partner got right into the zone creating his dish; I on the other hand, prone to chatting to my neighbouring cook, did have to re-slice my turnips 3 times and cook them twice. I blame the setting on the mandolin for this, and not my lack of attention. After slicing, dicing, pickling and assembling we sat down to enjoy our tartare – delicious!
Next was a salt-baked beetroot dish, served with a macadamia cream, beet reduction and sesame emulsion. It definitely helps, and is of course great fun, to have fancy kitchen tools to produce emulsions et al, however Chef Pieter does give alternatives so that you can recreate similar dishes at home.
The theme was inspired by Chef Pieter’s recent travels to Australia – what he ate while there, as well as various techniques he picked up while working in some of the country’s top kitchens. He peppered his demos with anecdotes from his travels, including his opportunity to plate that infamous “Jewel of the Sea” sea urchin dish, which was set as a pressure test by French chef Guillaume Brahimi on Masterchef Australia.
Fortunately for us, recreating that sea urchin dish was not our task for the evening; instead we made a Singaporean seafood curry and grilled lamb ribs. We basted the pre-cooked lamb ribs with a marinade made using the kitchen’s rotisserie drippings – the result was rich, meltingly tender lamb that was positively lip smacking.
For the curry, Chef Pieter started off by demonstrating knife skills and then created the curry base. We then headed off to our stations to put together both dishes. Things got competitive when it came to plating and plenty of creativity came to light. Fortunately there is no judging in this scenario, and no “please pack your knives and go” so you are free to be as artistic as you like.
Last on the menu were two desserts, a light-as-a-feather lime parfait and a vanilla bean ice cream topped with frozen coconut cream and crushed meringue. Both dishes were fresh, palate cleansing and just delightful.
Our group on the night was a fun bunch of people who all shared a love for cooking. If you fancy yourself as an up-and-coming amateur cook and want to learn more, Chef Pieter and his team are a wealth of knowledge. If you enjoy watching cooking shows, you’ll love the experience of prepping and working in a proper commercial kitchen environment. If you really just like to eat and drink, be sure to take a skilled partner along who can do the work on both of your stations – you can be a token stirrer or just quality control. However you choose to experience it, your evening is bound to be a blast.
4th & 5th August: North African Cuisine
1st & 2nd September: Finding the Flavour of Pinot Noir
6th & 7th October: Versatile Vegan