I’m bang up for a cooking school and it had been some time since my last foray, so I was excited recently to accept an invitation from Ronit Robbaz of Open Table Cooking School to join one of her popular weekend classes. I chose her ‘Healthy Mediterranean Workshop’ which focussed on ‘Med’ cuisine from a variety of cultures and countries whose shores lap the mighty azure sea.
Arriving at Ronit’s property in the Byron hinterland after a busy and hot Saturday morning running the usual errands was like slipping into a quiet oasis. The leafy green grounds surrounded by vegetable gardens, shady trees and an inviting dam were an instant remedy to the busyness of the working week. Our group of food loving students was gathered around a delicious table of hummus, pita, olives, smoky eggplant, crudités and okra prepared by Ronit as a delicious welcome. Accompanied by a cool glass of refreshing lemon water, we recalibrated, relaxed and felt ready for the kitchen.
Ronit’s heritage is Morrocan Israeli and she has travelled and worked around the world cooking Mediterranean, Moorish, Middle Eastern, North African, Indian Ayurvedic and whole food cuisine. These days, based on her idyllic and secluded family property, Ronit offers a variety of cooking workshops with themes such as Moroccan Banquet, Ayurvedic, Middle Eastern Feast, Exotic Vegetarian and Vegan Banquet. Her business Open Table Catering also offers corporate cooking events, catering and popups.
Our group of workshop participants came from Queensland, Sydney and the local area. Some had already attended Ronit’s cooking workshops and were back for a further taste. I’m pretty sure that will be me!
Our ‘Healthy Mediterranean’ menu for the day included vegetables and fruits accompanied by high-quality fats, nuts, seeds, fish, chicken and wholefoods. There was an emphasis on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients with much of the produce harvested from Ronit’s own kitchen garden.
After a run through of the recipes for the day it was all hands-on deck chopping, juicing, peeling and mixing until all the ingredients for the day’s menu were ready to roll. Ronit then led alot of the cooking demonstrations so we could sit back, relax, continue snacking and watch her at work. At a few points we got in and wrapped chicken parcels and added final flourishes to sides, but most of the cooking was led by Ronit. I really like this cooking school model as you get to watch and learn and ask questions. In classes where you break into groups or pairs it usually means you only get to focus on preparing one dish and you miss out on seeing the rest. Working in small groups can also get frustrating and can create a congested kitchen when everyone is vying for bench or oven space.
Our Recipes on the day included a Red Pepper and Walnut Dipwhich we enjoyed with pita crisps and then used to marinate the baked trout. I have made the dip / marinade at home since the workshop and Mr GFAF was suitably impressed, so it is definitely one for my repertoire! We cooked Roasted Beet with Yoghurt, a salad of Puy Lentils, Pomegranate, Almonds and Herbs, Quinoa Stuffed Chicken Breast in Orange and Saffron Sauce, and Ocean Trout Marinated in the Red Pepper Dip served with Oregano, Black Olives and Pistachio. For dessert there were glasses of Cashew Cream with Stewed Rhubarb and Fresh Figs.
The recipes and day flowed very organically. With a coconut allergy in our group, Ronit quickly made clever recipe adjustments on the fly. Personally, I was introduced to many new ingredients (Date syrup) and some tricks of the trade (such as colouring pomegranate). It was one of the most relaxing cooking workshops I have enjoyed. At the end of the cooking, Ronit served each of the dishes on gorgeous ceramic ware she has collected – many of the pieces locally made – and we enjoyed a shared late lunch in the cool of the shade. It was flavourful, fresh and delicious as we ate in silence enjoying every last mouthful! The meal ended with Turkish coffee for the brave and a gentle conversation about how much we had all enjoyed the experience.
Open Table Cooking Schoolis a must for anyone who enjoys cooking, eating and learning about new ingredients and where food comes from. Ronit is a delightful and professional teacher, chef and person. I highly recommend her cooking school. Head to her website for the full workshop programme. As part of this year’s Northern Rivers Food Harvest Food Festivalfrom 24 April – 5 May, Ronit is also running a ‘Moroccan Banquet Cooking’ Class on 5 May which sounds fantastic! Also, you can subscribe to her newsletter via her website and receive a free downloadable recipe booklet.