Miguel Maestre doesn’t walk into a room but rather bounds forth, greeting strangers with a handshake and a slap on the back as he did at the Good Food and Wine Show cooking class that I attended at the Sydney Seafood School recently. The effervescent Spaniard has been gracing restaurant kitchens in Sydney for a number of years and is now increasingly in our homes, with two cookbooks and a number of TV shows under his belt.
He was here on this particular night to teach the assembled group of bloggers and journalists the art of creating a punchy ceviche (recipe) and traditional paella, which the chef assures us in his thick Spanish accent “Should never be yellow unless you are in Benidorm.” A reference that makes the few Brits in the room chortle.
Maestre’s philosophy is that good food should be easy to make, otherwise people won’t make it so the ingredients for the ceviche (bar the fish) were all dutifully dispatched into a waiting blender. The juice of one lemon, then another, and another, and another. Then the limes. And the chilli. This was going to be more a king hit than a punch.
To offset the mouth-puckering sour, heat and acidity from the marinade, he also demonstrated a simple technique for poaching sweet potato in sugar syrup and star anise which served alongside the ceviche provides a zen-like harmony to the dish. The ceviche is followed by a shot of “Tiger’s Blood’, vodka mixed with some of the reserved marinade.
The sofrito for the paella (The flavoursome paste that the rice is cooked in) was also quickly demonstrated, with all of the ingredients being processed into a fine paste and set aside before being added to the cooking rice. Another tip we picked up from Maestre was that you should only use Calasparra rice in a paella, never Arborio rice, traditionally used in risottos. “You wouldn’t use Singapore Noodles in a fettucine!”, he exclaimed disdainfully. “So Why would you use Arborio in a paella?” Why indeed.
After the demonstration, we were hustled into the next room to begin the cooking the dishes for ourselves. We assembled ourselves into teams of four and began the task of recreating what was demonstrated. I paired up with Kurt Huth from Inside Cuisine to make the ceviche which as promised by Maestre was incredibly easy to make. The other members of our team, Sara from Belly Rumbles and Peter from Souvlaki for the Soul did an incredible job of making the paella.
The classroom had a real buzz. Even though we weren’t competing, it had the air of being on a cooking show, with the chefs flitting between each station, tasting and guiding along to way to ensure we had a good result.
After preparing the food, it was time to take it into the School’s dining room which featured a long, communal table and huge photographic mural of neighbouring Blackwattle Bay along one wall. The room was dense with chatter as everyone tucked into their dishes and enjoyed a glass of First Creek Chardonnay or Semillon.
It was without a doubt one of the best cooking classes I’ve been to, which had a lot to do with the quality of school itself, the hands on nature of the class and the magnetic personality of Miguel Maestre. I picked up some new skills and had a great time. What more could you really ask for?
Jeremy Bowell attended the class as a guest of Citibank, a key sponsor of the Good Food & Wine Show.
The Sydney Good Food and Wine Show will be held from June 28 – 30 at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre. You can see Miguel Maestre cooking at the Celebrity Theatre. Click here to book tickets
You can find Miguel Maestre’s ceviche recipe here