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Umami Overload, But in a Good Way

When I read the invitation to attend a cookery demonstration at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School (ENTCS), I thought the countries to be showcased were a little random! After all Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese are odd bedfellows.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've never been to ENTCS, but after the evening's demonstrations by chef Jess Shepherd, I hope to remedy that miscreancy.

We were welcomed by the school's principal, Fiona Burrell and a glass or two of Spanish wine before she explained about the evening ahead.

The odd mix of diverse culinary styles was to enlighten those present to the far-reaching courses that are run at ENTCS - from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, France and Spain to curries from around the world. But the evening was focused on Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.

Olive oils were up first Produced in Extremadura in the western part of the country there are four in the range: Arbequina that is mild; Eco is an organic Morisca -  a very intense flavour, quite peppery and Manzanilla Sevillana is good to cook with. We also tried Oleosetin unfiltered EV, which was utterly sublime. All are available to buy from ENTCS.

Onto the food.

Jess starts by making an enriched dough for the empanada (pie). This one was going to be stuffed with pork and chorizo but several of my peers thought braised octopus would be interesting.

While the dough rested, Jess was straight into making a Romesco sauce; garlicky, nutty and fragrant with sweet, smoky chillies and tomatoes. Delicious as a dressing or dip, and the perfect partner to prawns, grilled fish or even chicken. Definitely one for summer eating.

With the pie in the oven, Jess explains that the curry courses are very popular and showcases the different styles and flavours from across Asia and the Caribbean: it's more about aromatics and fragrance than heat. Whoosh and we're heading to the Thai red curry paste, the base for the Penaeng style prawn curry. A heady, perfumed mix of coconut, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and ginger; I swear the room could hear my tummy growling! Prawns would be cooked later, and it's off on the next journey - to Vietnam this time. Bun Bo Xau, a lemongrass, beef and noodle salad. Vietnamese food is less spicy and more about fragrance, vibrancy and vitality; layers of flavours and textures to keep the palate excited with each mouthful. The list of ingredients is huge, but let me tell you it's worth it. 

Jess is fluent in her presentation and before long she has built her multi-layered tower of beef, noodles, vegetables and nuts, all dressed in a sweet, sour; salty, spicy dipping sauce. 

With the red Thai curry paste waiting in the wings, Jess is immediately in with Penang Prawn curry. It takes minutes for this fragrant, oriental dish to cook. By this time we are champing at the bit as the pie is cut; rice is piled onto serving dishes for the curry, a huge platter of crudités with the Romesco sauce and the noodle salad are placed in front of us. Protocol has to be adopted and it;s out with cameras to capture the colours.

Voices are now mumbles as we sit to eat. Food, that I thought would be spiky hot, are tempered by coconut, sweet dressings and deft seasoning. I'm hooked. 

With a final flourish, Fiona brings out a chocolate and raspberry tart, based on a Michael Roux Snr recipe. 

Over the summer, there are plenty of classes and courses for everyone - from children and teenagers to beginners, budding bakers and professionals.Curries from Around the World is extremely popular and well subscribed. (L. Harris)

For more information head to http://www.entcs.co.uk/calendar

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