A SHARP knife, a plateful of shallots, an instruction to ''do as I do'' - and Mrs Kay Dunton and Mrs Ann Bell were looking decidedly apprehensive in the company of eminent French chef Roland Durand. Knowing it would be their turn next, they observed all the more attentively as the master set to work reducing a handful of shallots to a pile of paper-thin slices. It took seconds. As chef de cuisine of the famous Pre Catalan restaurant in Paris, Durand should know a thing or two about cooking. And it was the chance to learn from him which encouraged Mrs Dunton and Mrs Bell to enter the Sunday Morning Post /Hongkong Hilton competition to devise a dinner party with eight items from an imaginary fridge. Their prize was a private cooking lesson with Durand in the Hilton Grill kitchen. In town as part of the Hilton's 30th birthday celebrations, Durand is the second of six guest chefs at the Grill. He was recently awarded a second Michelin star. For his two pupils, he opted to demonstrate two dishes from the Hongkong promotional menu. First, pan-fried scallops on a bed of red peppers cooked with orange, thyme and crispy shallots. Second, gateau aux trois amertumes, a warm bitter chocolate cake with a liquid coffee-chocolate centre served on orange sauce. ''A critic recently voted it one of the three best desserts in France,'' Durand said. Describing his cuisine as regionally based with an Asian touch, Durand chose the scallop dish because of its simplicity and subtlety. ''It's easy to prepare at home, looks good and tastes superb,'' he said. While neither Mrs Dunton or Mrs Bell had any formal cooking training, they both entertained on a regular basis for friends and their husbands' business associates. In Greece, Mrs Dunton did a buffet for 80 guests. ''Never again,'' she declared. Her winning entry consisted of sauteed veal fillets with lemon sauce and braised leeks followed by chocolate creme brulee. Mrs Bell's menu comprised sauteed veal with leeks and fresh onion tagliatelle followed by banana souffle with a hot chocolate sauce. Both entries impressed the judges with their creativity. ''The lack of butter was a challenge,'' Mrs Dunton said. Winfried Brugger, the hotel's executive chef and one of the judges, said: ''In France chefs are judged on their spontaneity. To be successful, an ability to be flexible is essential. Both entries were.'' Durand passed on his trade secrets in a mixture of French and English but his precise actions spoke louder than words - much of the class was conducted in silence. Two hours later, having tasted the results, Mrs Dunton and Mrs Bell gave their verdicts. The scallops were ''subtle'', ''very light'', with ''beautiful colours''. The cake? As spoons delved into the crisp sponge shell and the rich dark centre oozed out, conversation stopped. The silence as spoons moved to mouths said it all.