There’s also a bit of a buzz at the moment about exploring the many different Asian cuisines beyond Chinese and Thai, or even the many regional styles within the more popular ones.
So School of Wok is right on track with its hour-long Quick Fire classes, that range from wok cooking and street food, and its longer Malaysian and Vietnamese classes.
The school is well placed between the heart of Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square, just down from Wahaca on Chandos Place. There’s a healthy footfall without the throng of nearby streets. Doors opened in May and the school has a new, uncluttered feel to it with high shelves punctuated by giant woks, plenty of space and light and a shop front which piques the curiosity of passers by. The kitchen has a flash pop-up ‘hood’ and enough room for eight people. A second, larger teaching kitchen downstairs is due to open soon.
The business is run by Jeremy Pang and chef Neville Leaning, who oversees the Thai courses. On my Quick Fire Wok class we grabbed aprons as the clock struck 6pm and cracked straight on with the class.
This included an intro by Jeremy to woks, a survey of ingredients, which had been prepped for us so we could concentrate on the cooking, a sniff and taste of different soy sauces, and a look at how to cook thick rice noodles: for four to five minutes in boiling water in a wok, then laid out on a tray with a splash of oil ready to be stir fried.
Jeremy tells us that we’re going to be doing 100 per cent of the cooking – not something you hear often at a cookery school. And that if we only take away one thing from the class it is that the basic marinade for beef, or indeed any main ingredient, is light soy sauce, sesame oil and a pinch of five spice.
We’re making chilli Hoisin green beans and dry fried beef hor fun. Armed with a smoking hot wok in one hand and a ladle in the other, it’s surprisingly hard work – like making a risotto on speed.
Jeremy guides us on the main techniques: the push back and fold over, the push round and the toss and flick – inevitably there’s spillage from the wok when I try ‘the flick’, which ideally should be one quick, smooth movement. I cooked the ingredients one at a time, starting with the onion and peppers, adding a little more oil around the top of the wok each time I added new ingredients for a more even coating and less greasy dish.
The result looks like proper Chinese food. We clean the woks by adding water and scraping off the debris with the wok still on the heat, then after removing the water, returning the wok to the heat to dry. “If you do this, your wok will serve you for years,” says Jeremy.
Towards the end of the hour, we sit down with a glass of wine and taste our two dishes. There’s plenty of flavour and enough to feed a family of four, so I get to have a take away, too.
Need to know: School of Wok, 61 Chandos Place, London, WC2N 4HG (schoolofwok.co.uk; 020 7240 8818). Classes start at £45 per person for a one-hour Quick Fire course