Karen Goes to Cooking School

Blog reproduced from Karen Cheng’s Fashion and Life.

The other day I attended a “Fresh and Fragrant Vietnamese Cooking Class” courtesy of Red Balloon.

I have never been to a cooking course or school, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

The class was at 6:15pm, which meant that, unfortunately, I had a bit of a rush before heading out the door. I must admit, I was already tired from my day, not to mention that I had just been grocery shopping, got home, unpacked all the shopping, and cooked a meal for my family.

I arrived, just in time, at a gorgeous little shop, with a huge kitchen at the back. It was completely fitted out as a professional cooking school, but it had the warmth and charm of your mother’s kitchen. I liked what I saw. I was really looking forward to watching a genius chef whiz up a few amazing dishes for me to eat.

There were 18 people, split into 2 groups, seated around 2 large silver benches.

I took a seat, and the first thing our chef said to the class was, “This is a hand’s on class! And YOU’RE going to be cooking a 3 course meal tonight!!”

I looked on the cooking benches and I saw PILES of raw ingredients (all still packaged separately), meat, prawns, rice noodles, bags of different vegetables, herbs, bits of ginger, chilli, garlic, bottles of oil, sauces, plates, dishes…

Vegetables that needed to be washed, seafood that needed to be sliced, meat that needed to be marinated, herbs that needed to be chopped.

My heart sank. I closed my eyes and thought. OH. GOD.


But I looked around the room and saw that EVERYONE was happy, smiling and excited. They were keen, helpful, friendly, and I had a pang of guilt / inspiration. Basically I gave myself a kick in the ass and got on with the task on hand.

Our table had 9 people sitting around it, so we were split into groups of 3.

I was with 2 lovely ladies – who were gifted this cooking experience by one woman’s son and the other woman’s daughter, who’s son and daughter were married. So they were a mother / mother in law duo, which I thought was such a nice idea for their children to organise.

I met another young couple who were there for a date. Such a sweet idea :)

Anyway, lucky for me… our team was making Beef Pho (rice noodles in beef soup). And my job was to cut up the mint – wayhey! (Can you see my neglected cutting-up station in the foreground of this photo?)

It worked out well, because I spent a lot of time hovering around taking lots of photos. With minty fingers.

Each team followed a recipe, and many times the chef stopped everyone and gave us demonstrations and lots of tips.

I was actually blown away by how much I learnt! I picked up so many cooking tips!

For example. How to hold vegetables properly when cutting, how to finely slice ginger, how to soak bean sprouts so that they will last a week, how to wrap up spring onions for the fridge, how to slice meat finely, how to roll rice paper rolls, how to do a zillion other things! And I also learned that the whitish, rib bit inside a chilli is not called a membrane, it’s called a placenta. There you go.

Our chef and presenter was absolutely fabulous. She had such a great character, she was charming, funny and lively. She really brought the class to life and kept me interested and completely engaged the whole time she was talking and demonstrating.

She also told us about other classes they hold including: pastry making classes, making pasta, cooking Spanish tapas… and I was DYING TO SIGN UP AND LEARN MORE!!

This was the scene of the kitchen. There was a fantastic buzz in the air.


I felt a bit bad that I was taking so many photos, so I put my camera down and decided to get more involved with the cooking. I found myself doing all sorts of jobs… finely slicing meat and dipping rice noodles into hot water – in front of everyone!

Actually, everyone was watching each other and talking to each other about cooking. But sometimes while you were doing something, the chef would turn everyone’s attention to you and what you were doing, and use you as part of the demonstration.

I am a control freak my own kitchen. I am relaxed and super confident in mostly everything I cook. Even when I “make up” my own recipes out of a mishmash of 3 recipes, I’m still certain it’ll be delicious.

But er. When you’re in a room full of strangers. And every one is watching you do something as simple as dipping rice sticks into water…

The experience was terrifying, nerve-racking but exhilarating at the same time. As if YOU were on a TV cooking show and millions of people were watching you!!! Haha what a rush!

See? Everyone was busy cooking while I was taking vain photos of myself in the fancy mirrored kitchen appliances. Chef Karen – fail.

So these were our final dishes.

Pho Bo – It was FREAKING AMAZING!! That soup was soooooooo delicious.

Steamed Seafood Rice Noodle Rolls – These smelt incredible. My mouth was watering to get my teeth stuck into these. And they did not disappoint.


Everyone had 2 rolls, but I grabbed 3 rolls because um, I thought it would make for a more balanced composition for the photo *evil laugh*.

Vietnamese Chicken with Lime, Chilli, and Coconut Rice – OK this one was probably my favourite, it was absolutely marvelous to eat. And I loved it because I love roasted peanuts, lime, coriander, chilli, coconut and all those gorgeously fragrant ingredients.

We walked away with full bellies and all 3 recipes in hand.

I had such a great time!

It was a really wonderful way to spend an evening. The only way it could have been better was if I went with a friend, or a small group of friends.

A big thanks to the Matters of Taste team! You’ll be seeing me again!

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