Uma Wylde gives Martin Riley a cookery lesson
PUBLISHED: 16:38 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:25 20 February 2013
Martin Riley is confident he can impress passing North Africans afer mastering a Morrocan recipe while enjoying a day-long cookery course
Cooking is fashionable, the way Uma Wylde cooks is uber-fashionable and the way she teaches cooking is unequivocally enthusiastic and devoted to simplicity.
Not simplicity as in the bloke's staple, emergency diet of cheese on toast or a fish finger sandwich, but simplicity in the uncomplicated way she tells you how to prepare every element and guarantee success.
Uma is passionate about food and during her career has spent 10 years running her own catering business specialising in directors' lunches, working with the glitzy and glamorous of Hollywood, and two years catering to the whims of the super-rich on board a private luxury yacht.
The essence of Uma's cooking is preparation. Her hot-off-the-press book 28 Taste Sensations subtitled 'A complete guide to 28 tasty, quick and easy suppers, one for every day of the month' tells it all.
Her cuisine is international: the book contains recipes with Italian, French, Thai, Moroccan, Jamaican and Spanish origins as well as a mouth- watering British stand-by of sausages and mash with tasty, lazy, onion gravy.
Uma has sought out the best ingredients and her book contains a section on Store Cupboard Staples, which brands to use and where to find them. Her research allows every cook to short circuit some of the long drawn out processes and guarantee success.
Her stylish kitchen is the nerve-centre, HQ and mission control of her cooking courses, no more than three students at any one time and run at a cracking pace. Uma is known to her friends and family as the Empress of Impatience so no time is wasted. Three of us, anxious to share in this life-enhancing process, arrived at her home in Tetbury in time for coffee and Uma's home-made biscuits. We soon realised that we would be benefiting from almost individual tuition in an atmosphere of cheer and good humour. Then a rapid-fire demonstration of once-a-week preparation of pre-fried onions; chopped garlic; basil oil; slow roasted cherry tomatoes and tomato sauce - a week's worth in less than 30 minutes. Fantastic.
For nearly 40 years I have been chopping onions as a central part of most meals and I discovered that for nearly 40 years I have been chopping them incorrectly. Mild castigation at this early stage of my first Cooking Masterclass left me slightly crest-fallen, but the French Onion Soup we made in 10 minutes was a culinary triumph, proving that badly chopped onions taste just as good as those cut with surgical precision.
Garlic is a central ingredient to many of the recipes and co-student Lis Hancock voiced reservations. Her husband Ken Hancock, the internationally renowned landscape painter, has a deep-rooted antipathy to this first cousin to the onion as a result of a hope-shattering, teenage experience with a glamorous Parisienne. However Lis was brave and crushed and chopped with the rest of us, all fortified with the occasional lubrication of Sauvignon Blanc. Ken would just have to accept his wife's sortie into the realms of gastronomic excellence and overcome his Proustian moment as the aroma of garlic rekindled those memories of unrequited passion.
The dish that won universal approval was Coconut, Prawn and Pumpkin Soup - 15 minutes to prepare, 10 to cook and only moments to eat. Lis was not the only convert. Louisa Gaskell, married to farmer Simon who rears wild boar on the edge of the Cotswolds and produces such delicacies as wild boar salami, admitted that she was very, very wary of very hot dishes and looked askance at the ingredients which included chillies, spring onions and a handful of garlic cloves.
Louisa teaches Yoga and has been described by other devotees of the lotus position as 'having too much air and needing more fire'. She tasted the soup with some reticence and then, as her eyes glazed over, she uttered lip-smacking approval with the words 'More fire? This soup could be the answer.' An hour later we made Creamy Peanut Chilli Chicken, again with a liberal addition of the taste-bud-igniting chilli peppers. Louisa registered her approval once more - another disciple.
As a chap noted for the safe, middle ground of winter troughs of stews, casseroles and curries, with the occasional sortie into the delicate hinterland of goat's cheese towers, my Damascene moment was not about overcoming the fire-power of herbs and spices but the simple lesson learned that thorough preparation improves the culinary process. Not just the time and timing but also the removal of those frantic, temper-testing moments of frustrated cupboard-searching for that elusive pot of Dijon mustard or packet of powdered coconut milk. Just follow Uma's recipes and nothing can go wrong.
Each of us prepared two dishes - all under the watchful eye of our leader - and each of us performed with varying degrees of professional flair, my degree was certainly not a 2:1, in fact, barely a third but a pass nonetheless. I was charged with the creation of Moroccan meatballs in spicy tomato sauce with mint and cinnamon scented couscous. I followed Uma's instructions to the letter, but there was a slight misunderstanding. When it came to making the meatballs themselves I joyfully dug out a handful of the raw materials and created half a dozen cricket ball sized portions - obviously a bloke's understanding of balls imaginatively exceeds that of a girl - after an entertaining, marginally Anglo-Saxon explosion from the effervescent Uma, I realised that I should have pressed out walnut-sized offerings not bloody great handfuls. Notwithstanding this minor off-piste moment, they were quite delicious. I have made them subsequently to great acclaim and any passing North African would have been impressed.
We three students emerged from the course entertained, enlightened and educated, although a word of warning for any future participants - prepare yourself for a belt-stretcher as each of the eight courses was eaten as the course unfolded and each was irresistible.
It's a real hands-on experience. We have all been dissembled by the smoke and mirrors of TV chefs. We all know that the cooking programmes we see have spent hours in the editing room and that the stars of the small screen have regiments of unseen assistants.
BUT - before your very eyes, Uma Wylde can transform a ham-fisted, fish-fingered kitchen clown into a masterchef with a wave of her magical culinary wand. Just read her book or join one of her cookery classes and I dare you to tell me I'm wrong.
Contact Uma Wylde at www.wylde.cooking.com 01666 511386