Flavouring your world Japanese for an evening…

If there’s one thing I love, it’s eating food.

Ok well, it’s actually eating food and cooking food, my bad.

And learning about food…ok, so if there’s three things that I love, it’s learning about and cooking and eating food.

Divertimenti is a cook shop in the beautiful beating heart of South Kensington, an area of London whose museums and galleries and restaurants make up some of the prettiest streets in the capital. As well as being the sort of store that makes you want to buy things you never even knew you needed until you saw them – FYI that is the entire range of cookie cutters – its basement is also home to some of the hardest working staff in London’s cooking schools and it was here that I recently found myself swept away to the Far East courtesy of a Japanese canapes workshop and the very talented Reiko Hashimoto.

Kyoto born Reiko has been teaching Japanese cooking to students in London for over a decade following time spent travelling the world with the airline industry and living in the global melting pot that is Hong Kong. Setting up her own cookery school ‘Hashi’ thirteen years ago has allowed her to inspire both novice & experienced food lovers and her first book was released in 2011 with a sibling on its way. Normally based in Wimbledon, it was absolutely delightful to spend a few hours in the company of her and four fellow food enthusiasts as we learnt a little about the ingredients, the dishes & the cooking techniques of Japan in Reiko’s first Divertimenti class.

My favourite food of the night was this incredibly warm, comforting & moreish take on the traditional Italian ‘arancini’ using miso and mozzarella. Cooking everything – rice, mushrooms, leeks & sauces – together in the same pot made it reassuringly simple and I can’t tell you how delicious the savoury, earthy flavour of the miso was when paired with the freshness of the leeks and the nuttiness of the rice.

Panko breadcrumbs should be in every home cupboard; try them once and lament at how many years you spent using the pale imitation churned out by other brands. Bigger & flakier & sturdier than their counterparts, these are breadcrumbs that give you a gorgeous crunchy texture on anything you coat them in and deep fry and, word to the wise here, you will want to coat & fry everything you can get your hands on once you start…you have been warned.

A crispy, golden crumb exterior that gives way to soft & yielding umami flavoured rice with a nugget of molten mozzarella at its core…that my friends, is how you take a classic and flip it to reveal something pretty delicious underneath.

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From the heart of Italy to a dish inspired by Chinese traditions next – Ban Ban Chicken with Sesame Dressing. Baking chicken with spring onions, ginger and shitake mushrooms would be enough to guarantee flavour & fragrance to satisfy even the fussiest eater but add some sake as well and the result is tender chicken with an insanely good broth that will form the basis of your sauce.

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Served in baby gem lettuce cups, these little beauties are the perfect food if you’re trying to be good but still want to feel like you’re allowed to actually eat! Crunchy cool leaves with savoury shreds of chicken & generous drizzles of creamy sauce tick all the boxes for healthy happy eating…

…and I can’t even tell you how addictive the sesame dressing was – it’s worth signing up to one of Reiko’s classes for this recipe alone!

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Vietnamese Spring Rolls were a beautifully simple & elegant canape full of crunch & bite…

…and it’s the tiny details like using herb stalks to tie each dainty parcel that really make the difference. You can see I got a bit greedy with the prawns here in my oversized first attempt but when it tastes as good as it did, it’s kind of hard to be sorry!

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As someone who doesn’t own a fryer and who has always steered clear of deep frying anything – I prefer to let my local fish & chip shop take care of that for me – tempura has never been something I thought I could make…

…guess what?

I totally can! This Squid & Watercress Tempura is one of the lightest, crispiest things I’ve ever had the pleasure of gobbling down as fast as I could.

One of the best things about a class like this is that if th cuisine is new to you and if you have ever stood in the global food aisle of your nearest supermarket overwhelmed with choice, you’ll come away with enough tips and suggestions to leave you feeling ready to take on a whole new continent of cooking.

Everything looks chic in a stripe and that now includes dark & glossy aubergines. Fat chunks of them made up our next dish – ‘Nasa Dengaku’ aka grilled aubergines with sweet miso. As vegetarian options go, you’d be hard pressed to find one that looked more stylish & chic than these shiny, squidgy, sesame-seed flecked beauties.

Another option for the lower calorie canape brings us to Spicy Pork with Hoisin Dressing.

Call me weird – I’ve answered to worse – but I have to tell you that I don’t like pork chops but I love pork mince.

‘Say whaaaat?’ I hear you cry…I know! It doesn’t make any sense to me either but there you have it. I’ve used pork mince in other street food recipes before though and found its low fat content makes it perfect for absorbing whatever flavours you pair it with as well as producing a relatively sin-free supper.

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We’ve had a dalliance with rice so now it’s time for a noodley type of flirtation in the form of these darling ramekins stuffed with Prawn Noodle Salad with sesame dressing. If the earlier Ban Ban Chicken gave us one eat-it-with-a-spoon delicious type of dressing, here comes anothere – gorgeously light & savoury, when it coats every slippery strand of nigella seeded noodle, every plumply pink prawn and every juicy half moon of cucumber…well it’s slow hand clap time all round.

One of the nicest things about Divertimenti’s classes are that once all the hard work is done – yes I know it’s not exactly coal mining but the best workshops do require you to roll your sleeves up and get involved – you all get to sit together, sip a glass of wine and feast on the fruits of your labour. There were five of us in this class which made it a nicely intimate and safe environment – no question went unanswered and when you’re learning something new or struggling to find your confidence in the kitchen, that’s important.

Reiko is currently enjoying that most relaxing of activities, kitchen renovation, and as such, her classes are suspended until this month. If you’ve ever had a hankering though to bring the land of the cherry blossoms to your own London kitchen, I would highly recommend visiting her website below and booking your place today.

Until then…幸せな料理

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