I laughed, I cried, I cooked. I marvelled at this mountain and that waterfall. I indulged in conversations with strangers. I packed and unpacked, always on the move, living from day to day with no sense of time. And suddenly I notice: the leaves are golden, temperatures are dropping, tourists are fewer. Oh. New Zealand has seasons, too. It’s autumn and I’ve been in this country for three months. And that’s when it occurred to me that I should probably write down what’s happened over the course of the last month before my memory fails me. I’m going to start with a place that I recollect very affectionately and which my fingers have been itching to write about.
The signature Akaroa lighthouse.
Do you ever fantasise about going to cooking school in some exotic setting? If you do then the Akaroa cooking school is just your ticket. Set in the tranquil historic fishing village of Akaroa, an hour and a half from Christchurch, a more scenic location for a cooking school could hardly be imagined. The school runs themed classes every week spanning world cuisines, from Thailand to France. In March I attended a one-day course dedicated to Spanish tapas.
Owners Lou and Ant Bentley used to be investment bankers in London. However their passion for everything related to good food and wine ultimately led them to quit their jobs and start a cooking school – and where else than beautiful Akaroa?
Against my expectation I was not required to do any actual cooking, as classes are demonstration only. Instead I was to sit back, have a drink, chat to my fellow coursemates and watch Lou and Ant cook up a storm.
The rooms have a light, inviting interior – Scandinavian minimalism, but with enough quirky personal touches to give it a cosy homely flair. A reflection of Lou and Ant, who are savvy businesspeople with a great sense of fun –during class, the banter was flowing while plates of food assembled like clockwork.
Coursemates getting to know one another over tapas and wine.
I was disappointed with the fact that I went to cooking school yet did not do any cooking at all. But if you are willing to accept the ‘cooking theatre’ concept then there is nothing to stop you from having an enjoyable day and a good laugh. I was pampered from the moment I walked through the door at 10 AM. As the twelve course attendants made their introductions freshly baked pastries were served. Then, Lou went to work and produced five beautiful tapas. We each had a hard copy of the recipe in our hands so we took notes diligently, like students at a lecture (although less diligently as the day progressed and wine consumption increased).
In front: Prawn and chorizo skewers with aioli. Behind: Grilled bread-crumbed mussels, and beyond, fried squid with harissa
Around noon the tapas were served, buffet style, accompanied by freshly made sangria and/or sparkling wine. The prawn and chorizo skewers with aioli were my favourite. As such, they’re a perfect testament to Lou and Ant’s philosophy: start with good quality ingredients, know how to combine them, and then do as little as possible to them. That’s it. Taste their food and you wouldn’t know how to disagree.
Lunch time. Ant tops up the ladies’ wine.
Next, the centrepiece of the day, a paella with chicken, chorizo and aioli, simmered expectantly while we went out to draw fresh air. Back at the school we went to sit down at a beautifully laid table and enjoy our main course accompanied by red or white wine.
And finally, churros were made to order and served with a dark chocolate chili sauce. ‘Churros?’ I remember saying to my coursemates. ‘That’s the kind of thing you pick up at the fairground – it’s certainly not what I would think of as a gourmet dessert!’. And then I ate about a ton of them. Because of course, homemade churros are a whole world apart from the fairground variety. And the chili chocolate sauce was divine. I was so preoccuppied I didn’t even think to take a picture.
Akaroa on a cloudy day.
I left the Akaroa cooking school very happy, and full, recipe folder in hand, the immaculate sheets of paper tainted with my illegible hand writing. I admire Lou and Ant for their food philosophy – they endorse high quality ingredients without ever falling on the side of the pretentious. Even without tying my apron I did pick up a few tricks from watching the cooking demo; basic things that I had no idea I had been doing wrong all along. And I had so much fun.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That is, if I didn’t have to pay a whopping $220. I guess for New Zealand standards this is a fair price to pay for a one-day cookery course; for the gourmet food, the wine (which was handed out very generously), and for Lou and Ant’s time. But for me the Akaroa cooking school is probably going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How I’ll cherish the memory.