I’m a great adherent to the belief that life is for learning – and I hope I never, ever stop learning. In fact, if there’s one thing I have picked up in my time on this planet is that the scope of the things I don’t know is endless. In the light of that, I’m always happy to take any opportunity to pick up new skills or broaden the meagre few that I have. These days it sometimes seems that the more time I spend writing about food, the less time I have to actually play with it. So, when I was invited to take part in a cooking class at The Retreat, at Chapel Hill Wines in our splendid McLaren Vale, I was there with bells on.
Chapel Hill Winery is perched on a hill in McLaren Vale, South Australia, on the site of what had been the Christian Bible Church for over 100 years – hence the name. The church closed it’s doors in 1965 and fell into disrepair before being revived as a winery in the mid 1970’s. It underwent further reconstruction in 1994 and the winery now owns and operates 44 hectares of vineyards, producing a range of noted wines under the stewardship of winemakers Michael Fragos and Bryn Richards, many of which it exports.
In 2003 Chapel Hill opened The Retreat, a stunning building which operates as a wedding, corporate and private function venue offering accommodation and some of the very best views in the Southern Vales. The Retreat offers deluxe accommodation and is available for medium sized groups. (For smaller groups or couples Chapel Hill also has a cottage on site offering three bedrooms with full breakfast provisions supplied.) It also comes complete with an outstanding commercial teaching kitchen where they offer small-group cooking classes as part of corporate team-building exercises. There are a limited amount of these classes available to the general public each year.
Behind the stoves in the kitchen you’ll find the impossibly young-looking Rebecca Stubbs, the Executive Chef. Despite the enviable bloom of youth on her cheeks, Bec has extensive experience in kitchens both here in Australia and internationally, when she travelled with local hero Ann Oliver.
Bec is responsible for putting together the classes offered to the public, designing their content and supervising her enthusiastic acolytes. There are generally about six classes offered publicly each year, usually in the winter months as they seem most popular, but they fill quickly. All the classes this year have had a strong Asian theme (All Thai’d Up, Crouching Tiger Flying Dumpling are just two, for example) but there will be a more classical direction in the next group of classes with focus on French and Italian food.
The participants get a quick run-through with Bec on what they will be cooking and are then divided into groups. This is a fully hands-on experience and each group is responsible for producing a section of the meal. At the end of the class we sit down to eat the fruits of our labours accompanied by a generous selection of Chapel Hill wines.
The class I attended was called “Bollywood” and was, naturally enough, Indian-food focused. Now, while I’ve churned out the odd curry in my time, I’ve not cooked a lot of Indian food so I was way out of my comfort zone when I discovered that I was in the group in charge of dessert – those delectable sweet dumplings called gulab jamon and the Indian style ice cream, kulfi. One other groups made samosas and Son-in-Law Eggs, while a third was responsible for butter chicken and lamb curry.
After a couple of fairly intense hours of preparation and cooking (have you any idea how long you have to stir milk to make a perfect kulfi? Two hours, that’s how long!) we all sat down to the splendid feast, each group complimenting the others on their fine handiwork. I was very proud of the beautiful dessert our group managed to present, particularly the kulfi, which had taken such dedication.
However, for me, the absolute standout dish of the day was the Son-in-Law Eggs, a dish I had never tried before. There are a few stories about the origins of these eggs, but the most common seems to be that it is a dish cooked by mothers-in-law for their daughters husbands when the man’s behaviour has been less than perfect. There is an inherent threat in serving up this dish, about what may happen to the men’s similarly shaped parts if they don’t see the error of their ways. Regardless, it is a stunningly tasty feed, perfect for a first course or a light lunch and Bec has kindly allowed me to share her recipe with you.
- 8 soft boiled eggs peeled
- 1 large shallot
- 1 large red chilli
- 1 small knob ginger
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil
- 1 Tbsp ground peanuts
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 cup tamarind juice from pulp soaked in water, then drained
- 2 Tbsp grated palm sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- HERB SALAD
- 1/2 bunch coriander
- 1/4 bunch chives
- 1/4 bunch dill
- 1 large red chilli
- 1/4 cup crispy shallots available from most Asian grocers
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 lime
- salt & pepper to taste
- Slice shallot finely.
- Grind chilli, ginger & garlic together in mortar & pestle or process finely in food processor.
- Heat peanut oil in a pan over medium heat. When hot add shallots & fry until starting to colour. Add peanuts, chilli, ginger, garlic and spices. Fry until fragrant.
- Add remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Simmer until thickened, then remove from heat.
- Wash all herbs well and pick sprigs off dill, slice chives and coriander stalks into 2 cm pieces, leaving leaf ends on coriander.
- Whisk oil and lime juice together in a small bowl. Set aside & dress the leaves just before serving.
- Deep fry in hot oil, or shallow fry in pan until golden and crunchy. Slice in half, lengthways.
- Spoon warmed sauce down centre of plate, arrange eggs on top, dress salad and sprinkle on top of eggs.
Chapel Hill cooking classes cost $150 per head, which includes all food, wine, recipes and a very smart Chapel Hill apron. Check online here for their upcoming classes.
Chapel Hill Wines
Corner Chapel Hill and Chaffey’s Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia, Ph. +61 8 8323 8429
Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of Chapel Hill Wines for this cooking class.