Do you love cooking but get nervous when you invite guests for dinner? Cooking at home is an opportunity to eat healthily and a source of joy.
It also has a therapeutic side: while concentrating on cutting, measuring, tasting, peeling and stirring, daily worries and troubles fade away and peace is regained.
Many clients are fascinated when I cook in front of them. They tell me of their love for cooking, but confess that they would be terrified to make dinner for 20 people. Even hosting four friends at home is stressful.
I'm not a trained chef. My postgraduate degree is in business administration. My first step to build confidence was to cook, cook and cook, as often as I could. It was beautiful to open a bottle of wine with my wife, put on some good music and cook together.
But the real breakthrough in my confidence and skills was when I started to cook with professionals. I wrote to chefs in cities I was travelling to and asked them to host me in their kitchens for a day or two. Remarkably, most said yes.
And I still do it now: I get lots of new ideas and practise skills. Most of all, it generates meaningful travel experiences. This year I cooked in restaurants in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Tokyo, Koh Samui, Buenos Aires and Milan.
The tables were turned recently when Julie Levine, a Korean-Canadian fashion designer living in Hong Kong, contacted me, asking me to host her in my kitchen.
She had heard of me through a friend, and she felt that working with a chef would provide a better learning opportunity than taking a culinary course.
Her main goal was to build her confidence in the kitchen. "I love cooking. I follow recipes and sometimes deviate from them, through trial and error," says Levine.
"My husband and friends think I'm good, but I lack confidence. I never think my dishes are perfect, although everyone eats them. But maybe they are just hungry.
"I feel limited and don't cook for more than six people but I want to be able to cater for larger groups. I saw you cooking for 16 guests and you were very calm about it: this is how I want to be."
I was more than happy to have her for a week in my kitchen, to experience how I cooked for and hosted my clients' private dinners.
Cooking is an art, not a science, and there are often contingency plans for when things go wrong. That is a skill cookbooks don't teach. It requires experiencing what happens in real kitchens.
Levine was nervous when I rang - her worst fear was that I was like Gordon Ramsay, the British chef notorious for his hot temper and foul mouth. "If you had turned out to be like him, I would have probably stopped cooking for the rest of my life," she says.
She was also afraid she would burn the roast or overcook the pasta. So she didn't tell a soul about our meeting, until after the first night. When her friends did hear about it, they were shocked and surprised.
It took an act of courage for Levine to step out of her comfort zone, but from the moment she started cooking, it was a great experience. It always is.
"I learned that simplicity tastes good. There is no need to overcomplicate a dish to make it exciting. The secret is to use a few outstanding ingredients," says Levine. "It was interesting to learn how you took the different personalities of the guests into consideration. Most of all, I gained confidence."
Levine was eager to taste the food she prepared, which is important for a cook. Her favourite was the chocolate cake.
Amedei chocolate truffle cake
75 grams non-refined sugar
200 grams Amedei 70 per cent chocolate
135 grams butter
20 grams flour
- Put a pan on the stove and melt the sugar with the water.
- When the liquid comes to the boil immediately remove from the heat and add the chocolate, broken into small pieces, and stir. Add the butter.
- Whisk the eggs and mix them with the liquid.
- Sift the flour and add it to the mixture.
- Place in a round baking tray covered with parchment paper and put in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Put a tray full of water at the bottom of the oven.
- When cool, rest the cake in the refrigerator for at least four hours.
Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti. cuoreprivatechef.com