Monday, January 10, 2011

Vietnamese Cooking Class at Fernandez & Leluu

When I was a kid my mom volunteered with CARE (Central Alberta Refugee Effort) helping families who had just immigrated to Red Deer to get settled in. She'd go to various stores and services with them and help them get acquainted with how things worked, where things were. I'm sure they would have figured it all out on their own, but, having moved to a Strange Country myself, I can see the appeal of having a friendly local to show you the ropes. We've lived here for three years and a trip to the cleaning products aisle still does my head in. 

I don't remember if I met many of the families my mom met, but I do remember one family very well, and I think they had quite a profound impact on me. They were a small family - mom, dad, little boy who must have been a bit younger than my brother at the times - from Vietnam. This would have been in the late Eighties. They had some family in Canada but had (for whatever reason) landed in Red Deer. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to arrive in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. I hope they arrived in summer. It's beautiful in it's own way, but Alberta is flat prairie land and the winter's are harsh and cold and bleak and the grey of the sky blends into the grey of the houses and the grey of the snow and it can break your heart. They had pictures in their flat of Vietnam, I remember a calendar, and it looked lush and warm and full of life. 

The mother made food the likes of which I had only ever had in restaurants. And she made it every day, like it was nothing special at all. This fascinated me. 

I'm sure she made plenty of dishes but all I really remember were the summer rolls. I remember taking them home by the plate load and my dad devouring them. She never wanted to come eat at our house. I don't think they liked Canadian food. But she did come over and make chocolate chip cookies with us. An odd cultural exchange that, chocolate chip cookies for summer rolls. Eventually they moved out to BC to be closer to family and when they left I think that was the last we ever heard of them.

But I can think of no other solid reason of my deep held need to one day go to Vietnam.

In the meantime I like Vietnamese food and while I have read a number of books, I've never delved into cooking it myself. So when Uyen of Fernandez & Leluu posted that she was going to be holding Vietnamese cooking classes, I was delighted with the opportunity!

Building summer rolls

Eating summer rolls!

Uyen held her second Vietnamese cooking class over the weekend. She and her mom led a group of eight of us through a crazy number of delicious dishes. We drank, we ate, we photographed and took notes. We took a break at the pub because we were bursting. Came back with renewed energy and appetite and were off again, preparing more dishes. The day culminated in a feast - we sat around the table, eating and chatting.

Building the Green papaya salad with carrot, prawns and chicken


Bo la lot ready for the oven

Possibly my favourite thing to eat that day

Uyen took us to a nearby Vietnamese grocery store where we all picked up foreign items and asked her how and what and is it delicious? I am so excited about the prospect of heading back and walking out with my arms laden with treasures. I think that just that little bit of knowledge will make me feel quite a bit more adventurous and I might  start buying random unknown things and bringing them home to test.

Stir Fried Tofu, Oyster Mushrooms & Asparagus In Oyster Sauce and Steamed Chicken with Poached greens - and brilliant accompanying sauce

Sweet & Sour Catfish Soup

I loved what Uyen had to say about the etiquette of eating. You take only what you will eat at that moment, and don't load your dish up with a mountain of food. This feels elegant, but also beautifully communal because it makes you interact with the other diners at your table and takes your face out of your plate. 

Dinner table begins to come together


Both Uyen and Ute, one of the other students who writes at Hungry in London, wrote posts about the day. 

The full menu for the day:

Sweet Basil Drink
Beef Pho
Green Papaya,  Prawn Salad
Catfish Hot & Sour Soup
Pan Fried Fish & Fish Sauce With Steamed Rice
Sweet & Sour Ribs With Vegetable Stir Fry
Summer Rolls
Beef in Lemongrass & Peanut Rolled in Betal Leaves
Rehydrated Logans, Seaweed & Jelly Dessert
Banana Pudding

The best part? I can actually see myself making some of these dishes at home. Vietnamese feast at C&L?

Rehydrated Longans, Lotus Seed, Jelly and Wakame with Pandan


The Grubworm said...

What a feast, and there is something so special about first having shopped, then prepared and cooked those very same dishes you ate. Having sampled some of Uyen's food before I can only say: you lucky things.

Ute@HungryinLondon said...

we had a good time, didn't we? I think I will do it again soon :)

LOVE LELUU said...

Looking forward to hearing about how Vietnamese food can now be part of your life and your cooking.

So great about your parents who helped families, I will never forget the ones who helped us. Every Monday, they would gives me maths, geography, english lessons so I was smarter and knew more than all the other kids at school but they did it all for bowls of Pho.

ferdiesfoodlab said...

Fernandez & Leluu now work independently!

Simon Fernandez is now full time chef patron at ferdiesfoodlab and employs 8 people on a part-time basis. ferdiesfoodlab (a London supper club) is a social banquet where you can meet new people. It serves international cuisine in the east end of central London at the beautiful listed building Toynbee Hall. You can check it out at