By Jo Cooksey
I love being cooked for, I love eating and I love meeting foodie people with an interesting backstory. So when I was to be invited to an evening at You Say Tomato in Wilmslow, the transatlantic cookery school, owned and run by Mum of two, Gemma I was both intrigued and excited.
I was first to arrive at Gemma’s lovely home, which gave me chance to have a chat with her over a glass of Prosecco and admire her frankly gobsmacking kitchen. She told me she had started her working life in advertising agencies, so that was something we both had in common but a move to California because of her husband’s job prompted an entirely unscripted change of direction for her. At home in Silicon Valley with a toddler and a baby, Gemma started inviting other Mum’s and their children over for play dates. During these sessions the US Mum’s expressed an interest in the food that Gemma was cooking and soon she found herself teaching her new found friends to cook fresh food from scratch. An alien concept to many Americans, who tend to rely on pre-prepared ingredients from the freezer, chiller cabinets or out of a tin. Word spread and soon Gemma found herself regularly teaching small classes or giving one-to-one tuition. You Say Tomato was born.
After 5 years, Gemma’s husband was moved back to the UK and the young family found themselves in Wilmslow. Having spent a few months doing up their newly purchased home and installing a beautiful, state-of-the-art kitchen Gemma opened her UK operation. However, her US clients are still clamouring for her so a few times a year she flies back across the pond to continue her classes there for a week at a time. She says, “Living and teaching in California and England allows me to share the best bits from both places. I share how both places cook, live and eat and what the latest food trends are.” In Wilmslow, Gemma does small group classes in her own kitchen but she will come to your house and she also offers one-to-one tuition.
There were seven booked on my class; my fellow writer, Sophie (http://sophiesscran.com) and five ladies who were celebrating three birthday’s between them and had wanted to do something different mark the occasions. They were a lovely group, who came armed with bottles of fizz, so we knew we were in for an entertaining evening. We all seated ourselves on stools around the huge island, facing Gemma at the hob. She had supplied us all with a copy of that evening’s menu so that we could make notes and she encouraged us to ask all the questions we wanted to. She also provided us with nibbles and drinkipoos to enjoy whilst she demonstrated. As you get a good portion of each dish after they are cooked I would definitely say don’t have your tea before you come. The class I attended was entitled ‘Deliciously Do-able Dinners’ and was structured to show busy people how to get tasty and nutritious dishes on the dinner table fast. There were three dishes on show that evening, one being vegetarian and all of them being gluten free.
Our first dish was Wild Salmon wrapped in Porchetta with Lentils, Fennel and a fresh Horseradish and Yoghurt Sauce. Gemma sprinkled a parchment lined baking tray with fennel seeds, then wrapped the salmon fillets in the wafer thin slices of porchetta and laid them on top. She then sliced lengthways, a bulb of fresh fennel and laid that alongside the fish and popped the tray in the oven to bake, whilst the lentils simmered to perfection on the hob. The horseradish was grated into the yoghurt to make a wonderful creamy sauce with a kick.
Up next were two variations on a fragrant, one pan roast chicken dish. One was made with crunchy chickpeas and seasonal vegetables and the other with chickpeas and quinoa. The first was super colourful and both were super tasty.
The final dish was the vegetarian offering and although I am a confirmed carnivore this was definitely my favourite. A big bowl of oozy, comforting, lemony Mushroom Ragu atop Cheesy Polenta and blobbed with verdant Kale Pesto. This was heaven in a bowl and despite having never really embraced polenta before I was sold. The Mushroom Ragu used both rehydrated Porcini and gloriously meaty Chestnut mushrooms and the Kale Pesto was whizzed up in a thrice.
Since returning from Gemma’s class I have recreated all the dishes she prepared that night, as she thoughtfully provided us with a recipe sheet to take home and they have all been hits with the family. Polenta has become my new obsession and I am currently serving it with everything. The polenta secrets that Gemma shared with us was not to buy the ready done slabs from the supermarket and by the same token don’t buy the long cook variety. Frankly life is too short to spend 40 minutes stirring a lava-spitting pan of ground corn. Use the quick cook polenta and beat in lots of butter and cheese. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.
Gemma is a very warm and articulate teacher, who keeps up an interesting and very funny commentary whilst she demonstrates. The class we attended was suitable for timid cooks and even if you are an accomplished cook there are plenty of ideas and tips to pick up. Frankly, it’s nice to watch someone cook and be able to taste the results of their labours. If you would like to more information or book a class you can contact Gemma online, (details below).