There I was; a giant plate of fragrant, falling off the bone, slow-cooked traditional Greek-style lamb sitting before me. The sound of happy people, clinking glasses all around me momentarily pausing as the lamb (amongst many other dishes) is passed around... I am feeling the love from this lamb. Actually, I am feeling the love from everyone in the room. I only met these people 3 hours before and we are chatting as though we were old friends. It's certainly the lamb, but I suspect that the good vibes in the room have rubbed off on all of us from one woman.
Maria Benardis, founder of Greekalicious Cooking Classes Sydney and author of two cookbooks (soon to be three) joins us at the table. She is keen for all of us to taste the food before us, to discuss the flavours and what we have learned today. Maria is a person who clearly has passion for what she does. Passion for food and passion for ethical, sustainable and organic produce.
Maria spend much of her early years growing up on the island of Psara in Greece where she learnt the fundamentals of Greek cooking from the women in her family. After working as a taxation specialist for 15 years in Australia, Maria decided to listen to her heart and pursue her passion for Greek cooking by starting Greekalicious, Sydney's first exclusively Greek cooking school.
So what did we make? Firstly, the kitchen was not big enough for all of us to cook each dish, which meant that some of the time you were pitching in with a few other people, and some of the time you could sit back and watch the action via the handy mirror attached above the preparation area.
I was involved (in a group of four) in the making of individual spanakopita - a traditional spinach and feta pie encased in crispy filo pastry. One of my tasks was to chop up leeks - here is the result of my mad chopping skills.
But I didn't just chop and sit down - I was there with my fellow spanakopita makers until the very last filo pastry case was filled with eggy spinach and feta. Not being of Greek origin, I don't often get to eat this moreish pie. However, learning how easy it was to throw together I know I will be making it again and again. I think it was my favourite dish...tying with the lamb.
Tzatziki was made: this was proper. I used to not be a fan of it because in the past I had mostly eaten that watery goop from the supermarket (it's even worse if says "diet" on the label). Here, you could taste every ingredient and it all melded together beautifully. I draped some on the lamb - now that was a very good idea.
The Greeks invented logic so it makes perfect sense to learn that they also had doughnuts down pat aeons before the rest of civilization. These are called loukoumades and traditionally they are covered in honey and cinnamon or nuts, but ours were laced with choc-chips.
As a side note - my boss who is Cypriot taught me how to pronounce loukoumades correctly the day before class so I felt pretty down with it when they were being passed around.
"Would you like some more look-oo-ma-th-des?"
I might have sounded cooler if I hadn't said it so sloooowly...
It was a fantastic way to spend three hours of my Saturday. Everyone in the room left full, happy and armed with the recipes we had cooked, ready to go home and make these dishes for friends and family. Maria had signed copies of her cookbook "My Greek Family Table" there to purchase as well as a selection of organic olive oils and vinegars made especially for Greekalicious by monks at a monastery in Crete.
And guess what? I have a signed copy of "My Greek Family Table" by Maria Benardis to give away to one of you*!
All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me what your food related passion is. I will pick a winner and announce it here on my blog in two weeks after posting this story.
*This giveaway is only open to residents of Australia.
If you are interested in booking in for a Greekalicious cooking class, head on over to http://www.greekalicious.com.au where you can also purchase Maria's cookbooks as well as other Greekalicious products.
The Littlest Anchovy attended Greekalicious Cooking Classes Sydney as a guest of Greekalicious - Thank you!