Dubaiweek.ae editor Jane O’Neill once tried to make zoodles from a cucumber and had to ask the internet how to turn on her oven. So we sent her on a cooking course…
Luckily in Dubai you can exist perfectly well without even donning an apron. But every fully-functional grown-up should have few kitchen skills in their back pocket. So a friend and I took a crash course in healthy cooking at Culinary Boutique.
The Jumeirah Beach Road venue is a massive hit with people who also don’t cook. The Scandinavian-inspired two-storey building has barely been empty from 8am every day since Emirati entrepreneur Hessa Al Qassim opened for business in January.
While dishes fly out of the kitchen downstairs, upstairs there’s a more gentle pace. Chef Julius Mutava presides over more than 100 cookery courses, teaching the art of everything from knife work to traditional Emirati dishes.
He’s a happy soul, born and trained in Kenya, who has worked in kitchens around the world. His grin barely falters when I confide my signature dish is scrambled eggs, done in the microwave.
I don’t spot a microwave in the gleaming classroom/kitchen, but it is kitted out with everything a real cook needs – a centre island contains four gas cookers and rings and each would-be chef has their own fridge and worktop area. Very handy and well equipped.
Even more handy, we find, is second-in-command Chef Dan, who quietly and efficiently stops pans from boiling over and magics away dirty dishes. That’s our kind of kitchen.
When Julius introduces the three dishes we’re going to cook – squash quinoa patties, pan-seared sea bass with cauliflower puree and citrus balsamic glazed tofu – they seem an unimaginable amount for a) a three-hour class b) a lifetime spent eating other people’s creations.
But our instructor is so charming and his instructions so clear that it’s pretty much a seamless session. There’s no cutting corners – not much is prepared, although Julius concedes that Dan filleted the seabass in advance, as he has know students to, erm, violently part with their stomach contents during the process.
Instead, we learn to chop garlic properly (press down with the flat knife, hard), ways to dodge sloppy tofu (choose extra firm and chill) and how to avoid disintegrating patties (use a ring mould when you turn, obvs) as we create the three meals.
Half way through the sessions, one of Julius’ younger students pops in to greet him enthusiastically and wave shyly at us.
“I love teaching kids,” he explains, “They pick up so much, and I’m able to tell them about healthy eating, so they can go home and say ‘mum, dad, I don’t want a McDonald’s.'”
As well as the younger generation, Culinary Boutique’s courses are such a hit with local ladies that the restaurant designed a special apron to cover the trailing sleeves of abayas.
“A lot of ladies come because they are moving out of their parents’ house or going away to study, so they want to learn how to cook,” Julius adds.
Some of his students are becoming so good Julius is planning more advanced courses.
We enjoy our meal out on the restaurant’s terrace, each bite tasting all the better for being made by us.
So what culinary masterpiece does Julius whip up at home? “A cheese sandwich!” he laughs, “because when I get in, I’m so tired. I like a Gruyere cheese sandwich, with some good meat.”
Seems I could be a master chef after all.
Check out the class schedule at www.culinaryboutique.com/venue