When I was invited to go to a live cooking demonstration at the Geisha Wok and Noodle Bar (Conrad Gallagher’s first restaurant in South Africa) , my enthusiasm for cooking met with my seafood-phobia. Boy, was I in a pickle when I saw what was on the menu for the day... sushi, prawns, salmon and shrimps. "Oh dear," I thought "I am going to have to pretend to like seafood just so that I do not embarrass myself." I mean vis en tjips is about as fishy as I'll ever get.
However, the swanky, beige interior of the front of house bar blended perfectly with the Graham Beck bubbly to ease my troubled seafood nerves preparing me for the imminent try of seafood in its rawest form... sushi
"I can do it, it's just sushi."
I took a big sip of champers and the kind sushi lover next to me at the communal eating tables showed me what's what. I followed her every move, carefully negotiating my chopsticks and picking up a piece of wet rice filled with tuna and avocado.
"This can't be so bad," I thought. Once again, I copied her actions like a naughty schoolchild, spreading a little wasabi on the roll and then dipping it in the soy sauce. In it went and now there's no turning back. I'll be honest. It wasn't nice. If I wasn't such a well brought up young lady I might have spat it out right there. Alas – I came, I tried, and I did not conquer. Nevertheless, that's not to say it wasn't good sushi. My table companions raved about it. I'll take their word for it.
Michelin star chef Conrad Gallagher then invited us to the kitchen to watch him prepare some tasty dishes. First up was some prawn toast. Watching the master at work and seeing him turn fresh ingredients into an artful and tasty masterpiece, right in front of my eyes, really inspired me.
Next up, we had Calamari and chorizo stew. All the dishes were very simple to make and just required the correct cooking techniques, which Conrad explained in the finest detail.
While I was slowly won over to the idea of seafood, the wok-fried salmon sealed the deal. Gently fried in peanut oil with some sake and served with a soybean and coconut mash – salmon has never looked so glamorous or tasted this good. This meal was followed by three delicious noodle dishes.
Cooking with Conrad
Conrad was so accommodating with all the questions and "could you repeat that please's". I almost felt like I could call him up and say "Hi, my cheese sauce is lumpy. What do you suggest?"
So what does the youngest ever, at 25, recipient of a Michelin star like to eat?
He likes making roast chicken with lemon and rosemary on a Sunday. Rather plain in comparison to the artworks we just devoured. But that's just it. He's so down to earth.
While I can now manoeuvre chopsticks and have a finer appreciation for seafood, the dessert table stole my heart... or is that taste buds? A large table was laden with a gallery of desserts. I helped myself to a teaspoon of cheesecake covered in mango pieces and some chocolate pudding with warm chocolate sauce inside, some ice cream and some crème brÃ»lée just because I could. That's before I wrenched myself away from the table of decadence.
Luckily, I took his cookbook One pot wonders home so I can feast on these desserts at my leisure.
Try it for yourself
If you want to try it for yourself – go to the related links to find the recipes for Conrad's Geisha prawn toast and Calamari with chorizo. Geisha Wok and Noodle Bar will be hosting these one-day intense cooking classes on the last Saturday of every month. The class which commences at midday, costs R995 per person and includes lunch, a Conrad Gallagher apron and a recipe book.
To reserve your seat contact Candice on 082 905 0566 or e-mail email@example.com.
Samantha Brighton is a sub-editor for 24.com, an in-the- closet foodie and now less fearful of seafood.