BEFORE Reece Hignell placed in the top six on the 2018 season of MasterChef, the Newcastle cook could often be found honing his skills in the kitchen at The Essential Ingredient.
He was a regular student at The Junction gourmet food store's cooking classes, but since building his profile and pursuing a career in food full-time, Hignell has found himself on the other side of the bench. He will steer away from his usual dessert making classes next month to team with Newcastle Farmers Market Your Food Collective to create a seasonal dinner menu cooking class using produce that would be found in one of the company's fresh food boxes during the winter months.
"It's about having what you have got on-hand and cooking with it, so we are only cooking with seasonal produce and what you would get if you ordered one of their boxes," Hignell says. "The class itself is about focusing on what's in season and how to use it when it's at its best."
The menu includes macadamia nut dukkah spiced lamb rack, roasted carrots with carrot leave salsa verde and tahini dressing, baked eggplant with harissa yoghurt, and steamed orange and cardamom pudding with churned ice cream.
The class is hands-on, and when it's done, participants sit down to eat and chat over a glass of wine (tickets $165).
"Before I became a cooking instructor myself, I used to go to the classes as a customer. I absolutely loved them - it's a foodie haven," Hignell says.
"I love being on the other side now. I like to get out from behind the bench and help people, and show them what to do because, for me, I learn a lot more when I interact with someone. I think that's a really important part of it."
There's plenty of variety to choose from at cooking schools in Newcastle and the Hunter - including Thai, Mexican, Spanish, and Mediterannean classes. Here's five to try:
The Essential Ingredient
Junction Fair Shopping Centre, 200 Union Street, The Junction Not only is it a "foodie haven", with its abundance of speciality food and kitchenware, but this shop is also home to its own cooking school. The store hosts a range of classes, typically two to three events every week, including ones specifically designed for kids. Upcoming classes include an autumn gnocchi class with Angelina DiLorenzo on June 27, and an American-themed cuisine class on July 4 featuring buttermilk fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, jalapeno poppers, and candied pumpkin pies. Restaurant Mason chef Chris Thornton will present a brunch master class on July 27, and Hignell will return on July 17 to lead a two-hour high tea cooking class aimed at kids aged eight and up. essentialingredient.com.auI
In Sofia's Kitchen
Seaside Estate at Fern Bay If there is one thing that Fern Bay-based cook and blogger Sophie Stokes loves more than food, it's sharing her passion with others. The author of In Sofia's Kitchen: Mediterranean Flavours Down Under offers several cooking workshops, including in-house classes at her home. The three-hour workshops cover four Mediterranean recipes which participants then sit down and share together at her dining table. The workshops cost $140 per person, with a minimum of six guests. She also offers kids cooking classes at her home, which cover two recipes and cost $50 per child. She can also bring workshops to you, hosting them at your own home. On July 7, Stokes is set to host a Greek cooking workshop at Mira Wines in Pokolbin, which will feature five recipes and costs $185 per person. insofiaskitchen.com.au or phone 0438 143 314.
Lovedale Smokehouse, 64 Majors Lane, Lovedale Majors Lane Cooking School began offering cooking classes in 2007 after Lovedale Smokehouse owner, chef and pit master Ben Sales returned from a culinary tour of Thailand and wanted to pass on his knowledge of cooking Thai street food from scratch - think Thai red curry fish cakes, Chiang Mai-style pork skewers, Khao San Road fried rice, and coconut sticky rice. Twelve years on, Sales has branched into other styles, offering classes that cover authentic Mexican, healthy Vietnamese, and mastering the art of low and slow barbecue. The hands-on classes are held outdoors and when you're done, sit down to your meal with a glass of Hunter Valley wine or craft beer. Classes are held every Saturday and Sunday, but can also be booked at anytime for groups of six or more. Classes cost $155 per person. majorslane.com
1238 Milbrodale Road, Broke The arrival of winter spells the return of truffle season. The prized pungent delight is the focus of two cooking classes at Margan in July and August, with head chef Thomas Boyd - who was crowned champion at the Food Fight event held in Pokolbin this week - using truffles from the Southern Highlands to create a beautiful truffle pasta dish. Boyd will talk participants through the process of storing truffle and how to make the most of it by using it to create oils, butters and infusions. The class includes a tour of Margan's kitchen garden and orchard, a truffle and pasta-making masterclass with Boyd, followed by a three-course lunch with matching wines. The classes are July 7 and August 4. margan.com.au
151 Palmers Lane, Pokolbin If you're yet to master that paella recipe, The Verandah's Tim Suffell hosts a hands-on Spanish cooking class every month at his Pokolbin restaurant. Not only do you learn how to cook a Spanish paella but the class also covers making churros for dessert, as well as sangria to wash it down. The class starts at 9am and costs $95 per person. Upcoming dates are June 23, July 28, August 18, September 22, October 20 and November 17. verandahrestaurant.com.au or phone 4998 7231.