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9/10/10 Out of the frying pan into the wok.... and my first repeat booking!!

posted 13 Jan 2011, 11:14 by lisha linski

Well I now had 2 supper clubs under my belt I felt confident. Practically a black-belt in fact. Now I can really put myself under pressure....

My first one was Indian (fairly easy), then Northern Italian (a bit harder, more plating up), but I've been saving up the terror till I had a bit more experience. Chinese. Chinese is a nightmare because nearly everything has to be cooked at the last minute. In the previous 2 supper clubs I'd even been able to sit down with my guests from the main course onwards. No way in Hell that's going to work for Chinese.

I'm half Chinese, and I have quite a few Chinese friends. We have a regular mahjong night (which is really just an excuse to eat) every month and we all bring a dish, which oftentimes requires last minute stir frying. There's always a fight for the wok. There's a real reason that the Chinese banquets I grew up with as a child came out bit by bit, dish by dish. That's the way it works in the kitchen.

So, what to cook? Well, I had a pretty good idea for this one, and it didn't need much research as I know all these dishes already as I've cooked them for my mahjong club (and I know nothing gets left behind). Here's what my blurb on the event read:

We start with a delectable lamb dish from the Imperial Court "Ah, Sweet as Honey", a favourite of the Empress Dowager (known to many from the opening scene of The Last Emperor). The last ruling dynasty, the Qing, were Manchus, from Northern China/Mongolia. They ate lamb which is relatively unusual in China. We go on to taste a tofu and seafood dish in "XO sauce" influenced by the "foreign devils" as the Imperialist powers started to exert their influence in China. This led to a taste for Western luxuries - and cognac was amongst them. Actually there is no cognac in this dish but "XO" became synonymous with luxury and the ultimate concession to the "foreign devils" - Hong Kong - developed this expensive sauce. Being seafood, it also comes from the Eastern Seaboard which is where the foreigners were able to trade. It could be argued that reactionary tendencies towards foreign influences were influential in bringing in the Communists. We then progress to the favourite dish of Chairman Mao - red stewed pork. This is an earthy dish and a world away from the "Ah, Sweet as Honey". It was a popular dish in Beijing and will be served with another dish from that era, stir-fried "Aubergine Silk", which was a simple dish eaten by people during the Cultural Revolution when there was not much available in the shops. Which system had better food? You decide!

The next question was of course getting bookings. I started out with those people who had been unable to come to the previous 2 due to them both having been on Wednesdays (I do have other social life apart from cooking and was busy the other days!). The first person I mailed was a friend who has T'ai Chi classes on Weds. He turned out to have been on-line too at the time so this is how the conversation went...

Me: do you want to come to the next supper club on Sat 9th October? it's not a Weds. I'm doing Chinese food.

Manu (yes, despite the T'ai Chi, he's not Chinese!): what's on the menu?

Me: That Chairman Mao's favourite pork I cooked you once, and the aubergine dish too. Also I'm going to do an amazing Imperial lamb dish that was a favourite of the Empress Dowager, and a seafood dish.

Manu: I just salivated onto my keyboard! I'm in!! let me see if I can get some friends to come...

So I got 3 bookings out of that, and another 4 from other people who had previously requested a weekend - I mailed them directly first, that was my lesson from last time! I really had to decide to limit it to 12 people absolute max, so I was well on the way to filling that. That's NOT including myself of course because I'll be lucky to get a sip of tea whilst slaving over my wok. A quick mail-out telling everyone there were only 4 places left, and I was full!! Wow this is black-belt stuff and marketing had never been so easy. There were some amazing things too...

1) I got my FIRST REPEAT BOOKING - from the couple who mailed me a thank-you from my first night!

2) something much more scary - a friend is married to a lady who writes all the cookbooks for a CELEBRITY CHEF who shall remain nameless but is a household name. Yes, it appears it's true, they don't write them themselves, not even the forewords. I've never met her, but she is coming. Yikes!! no pressure... no pressure...

Some things are easy for me about this one. I know the dishes, I know they are fab and I've cooked them all recently. I know I have 12 pairs of chopsticks and bowls and everything (cutlery can be a nightmare so God, am I grateful for chopsticks on this one). But cooking them for 12 when there are only 5 dishes in total (I'll include another veg one in there just to make sure that we are all getting our 5-a-day), means that I really have to do each one in large quantities, which can be tough for stir-frying. But if I make it 6 dishes we'll be there all night and I'll start having to put people up! 1 charity hotel coming up... The last time I cooked chinese food for 12 people with just one friend, we did around 12 courses (yeah, that was pretty ambitious. Perhaps I'd have been better off with climbing Kilamanjaro). For 8 of us at mahjong we would typically have 5-6 dishes, only one of which I cook of course. I wonder if I need a bigger wok, but then you need a bigger burner too...

Well one thing I can be grateful for is that I have practically the largest Chinese teapot in the history of the world. I got it because at Chinese New Year, we fit 18 people round my dining table, and I asked my Dad if he could be in charge of the tea. The poor man spent the entire day getting up, boiling the kettle and topping up the teapot. I'm not sure he even got anything to eat. So when I was last in HK I got one that takes - we measured it once - over 4 litres of tea. It's mammoth - it filled my whole suitcase. But I won't be topping up teapots whilst stir frying with the other hand.

Well, tune in to the next time folks to see if I survived my night of terror.... it's tonight....

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