Friday, September 05, 2008


I love cooking classes – I love being told what, how and why to do things, to learn new techniques, to be able to ask my innumerable silly questions about techniques, ingredients and their substitutes.i especially love learning about cultures of countries i'm in through ttheir food. and best of all, I love being able to eat the teaching material.

I found mmmmh! through the blogger network and signed up for their Belgian cuisine class. I did try begging to be let into their already full molecular techniques class (read pipettes, calcium chloride, sodium alginate and such), but such were their popularity that they were at capacity and there was already a waiting list. The Belgian food class did sound intriguing however, with their offerings of beer soup and meatballs.

The class was taught by the all knowledgeable Sergio. an architect in his former life, he now helped run mmmmh! and its multi-faceted food linked services. They didn’t just do cooking classes for budding amateurs, they ran corporate events, team building cooking classes, food consultancy services – and of course they had a fabulous kitchen shop with a whole array of covetable equipment and ingredients – lovely bottles of green virgin olive oil, fleur de sel, artisanal pasta jostle for shelf space with wurstoff knives and kitchenaid stand mixers. All rather covetable stuff.

Putting on our aprons, we started the evening off with a few glasses of house wine and nibbles as Sergio explained the format of the evening. We were a small group of 5 – I was glad to find I wasn’t the only first-timer. We’d have to do some of the work, he explained – I’m not cooking for you lot. Across the room, chopping boards had been laid out and we were ushered across to start chopping up a couple of onions, shallots, garlic and various other mise en place.

Over at an island housing various induction hobs, Sergio taught us to make the base of the beer soup – onions and garlic sautéed in butter into which flour was sprinkled for thickening and cooked off. Veal stock and leffé blond was added in almost equal measure to taste. More leffé blond was when Carlo, former lawyer turned chef/instructor/director of mmmmh!, walked into our class and requested for more beer in the soup. The soup was finished with an emulsion of egg yolk and cream and topped with croutons of bread which had been fried in butter. Belgian cuisine clearly isn’t for those on a diet.

Deep fried ham and cheese was next – slices of ham sandwiched between two slices of cheese was coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Served with a tomato salad which had been dressed liberally with a vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The tomatoes were extremely fresh. The cheese we had used was maredsous – a cheese produced by the maredsous abbey, also known for the originators of maredsous beer, now produced by the same people that produce duval. Sergio said using gruyere would probably work if I couldn’t get maredsous in England.

Third on the menu was liege meatballs – formed from a mixed mince of veal and pork into which bay leaves, thyme, onions and fresh breadcrumbs had been added, golfball size spheres were panfried till a crust had evenly formed, and then continued to braise in sirop de liege – a jammy concoction of various fruits and lots of sugar. We ate this with braised caramelized chicory and boiled potatoes.

Because we had been good, Sergio threw in a bonus pudding in the form of dame blanche – vanilla chocolate with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Varlhona chocolate nibs were melted with cream into which a few drops of water was added – Sergio explained that this would stop the sauce from solidifying too quickly when the sauce was poured over the ice-cream. The cream was whipped in an iSi siphon and NO2 chargers – you wouldn’t have expected less from the man that teaches the molecular gastronomy classes.

It was an extremely fun class and I had a brilliant time – and as i sat round the table drinking more wine and eating seconds of ice-cream, i reckoned there were probably less fabulous ways to spend a friday evening. i was in the company of people who were clearly passionate about food as the conversation turned again to global cuisines, source of ingredients and yet more cooking techniques - you know when you’ve got a bunch of foodies together when even when they’ve just been eating, they’re still talking about food.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

oh my! viva m’bomma

I’ve haven’t laughed so hard for a very long time.

The meltons were in town enroute to watching the F1 in Spa – beer and steak were in order. I did text them asking if they would eat fish, but they are after all antipodeans. As I trekked over to grand place to meet them after work, I remembered why I hate wearing shoes – they impede my ability to think and they’re a health hazard – those dang heels kept getting stuck in the crevices of the cobbled streets. Mr melton gave a running commentary of the high heels sprint race in Sydney recently. That man is a font of knowledge. I found a write up on the telegraph online – the attached footage is really quite entertaining – watch it

We had time to kill before dinner, and so, a couple of beers at l’archiduc where I was accused of drinking girlie beer because i had ordered a strawberry beer. We somehow also managed to come up with the first draft of a potential best man speech for a mate back in london. All very productive stuff. A short ramen-related diversion later, we found ourselves at viva m’bomma where we were ready to eat some serious meat.

Viva m’bomma came with high recommendations from the secretary at bigbankbrussels. Go if you like meat, she said, they do all sorts of really Belgian stuff, including all the insides as she clutched vaguely at where her liver was, as if to drive home the point. I probably zoned out somewhere at the point she said “meat”. Mmm. Meat.

Upon entering Viva m’bomma, we were greeted by a rather large pig. mr melton took a picture with the pig.

A chalkboard of the daily specials were brought out and translated.

“carpaccio of (something) of (something) with smoked (something)” said the very polite young waiter. I stopped listening at carpaccio. Mrs melton ordered this, and because we thought we heard the word ‘boeuf somewhere in that sentence, we assumed. It was wrong to assume, especially in a restaurant that was the Belgian version of st john’s. the daily specials included veal tongue, grilled bone marrow served with speculoos. The regular menu had calves brains in two preparations. We were getting a bit nervous. Mrs melton needed a little convincing that Stoemp was really quite harmless - plain, albeit extremely tasty mash with vegetables, served with bacon and/or sausages. bangers and mash in other words. she eyed me suspiciously.

i started with snails in an extremely garlicy cream sauce, with lashings of rocket and baby potatoes. the rocket was extremely peppery against the earthiness of the snails. tasty. i'm just glad i didn't get mrs melton's carpaccio. it actually wasn't all that bad - it tasted like chicken ham and came with a nice looking drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a tomato salad of sorts. it just didn't look like the raw beef slices we were expecting.

the very nice waiter was summoned and called to account for what exactly lay on the plate. "i told you - it's carpaccio of 'hudder'". 'hudder'? he started miming the milking action of a cow. ah right. carpaccio of udder. he must have seen our faces turn green while across the room, a couple mimed again the milking action of a cow and laughed. it was quite surreal.

the stoemp was fortunately just stoemp and not some offal related interpretation thereof. it was delicious - velvety mash infused with large oozy tracts of carrot, very tasty sausages and strips of bacon. mr melton and i went for vol au vent with chicken - a pastry cup overflowing with chicken chunks, mushrooms, meatballs and a very creamy sauce. all very comforting hearty carnivorous fare.

Post dinner, we schlepped back in the general direction of grand place when we heard a sudden, but very civilized exclamation: “oh my!”. A comically gruesome window display in a video rental store of a man being very bloodily sawed in half had been a somewhat shocking sight to mrs melton who both had jumped and exclaimed in shock in very civilized measures. Her reaction was completely unexpected and rather out of character. Mr melton and I spilled our guts on the pavement laughing so hard we got tummy aches. We spent the rest of the evening exclaiming “oh my” at everything however inappropriate or unwarranted to the chagrin of mrs melton. A tad juvenile of us perhaps. But you had to be there. it was udderly hilarious.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I can’t think of anything not to like about pain à la grecque – crisp doughy goodness studded with large crystals of sugar. I had deliberately walked the long way home to include a detour via rue de la rollebeek to get a bag of these from the dandoy branch. they brought back instant memories of the snack I had as a child – slices of white sandwich bread, buttered and sprinked with sugar – devoid of all useful nutrition yet bringing so much innocent pleasure in its straightforward simplicity.

pain à la grecque, or ‘greek bread’ has nothing to do with Greece. according to the, these delectable snacks find their origin in the Fossé-aux-Loups, also known as the gulf of Gracht. a baker friar made baguettes and rolled them in coarse sugar and these came to be known as ‘bruut van de grecht’. the misnomer came about when french troops occupying Brussels mis-translated these as pain à la grecque. and so the name stuck. a little useful trivia for the next pub quiz.

dandoy are the oldest biscuiteers in Brussels. on entering their flagship store on rue au beurre (how very apt), the homely spiciness greets you in a warm embrace. the display of little butter sables, brown ginger speculoos – it makes you want to grab large handfuls of each offering and stuff them in your bag while the lady behind the counter isn’t watching instead of patiently waiting in line to choose each daintily packaged offering. but maybe that’s just me and my greediness speaking.

and simply because I miss george desperately, here’s a picture of the de la morinerie print I’ve bought for him.