EVERY year Hong Kong plays host to hundreds of food promotions with guest chefs. This year the Lan Kwai Fong Association even introduced cooking classes during the Hong Kong Food Festival. With so many chefs and teachers bowing in and out, feeding and, hopefully, inspiring many, what do they leave behind? Secrets. Every chef has secrets, or what the French call trucs. Truc is a noun and in French it rhymes with brook. In cooking, it means a trick, a shortcut, a gimmick. Whatever, a truc must be helpful. A few examples are: champagne can be chilled in a flash by plunging the bottle in a bucket with ice water, ice cubes and lots of salt - the salt forces down the temperature; and the nasty skins on hazelnuts can be removed by spreading the nuts on a baking sheet, coating them with water and baking them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Celsius - the steam loosens the skins. Want some more? Before the classes finished and those guest chefs went home, we asked a couple for trucs. Sneak these up your sleeve to dazzle the family at your next cooking demonstration. Mother and daughter team from Mexico City, Martha Chapa and Martha Ortiz, lured lovers of flans, cactus leaves and tequila to their Mexican promotion at Kowloon Shangri-La. Their trucs deal with hot stuff. After working with chillies be careful. That oil embedded in your fingers is dangerous, especially to the eyes. To remove the chilli oil from hands, rub them with raw tomatoes and salt. Chillies too hot? Reduce the heat by stripping away the seeds and membrane. Green salsa needs a punch? Improve the taste by adding a dash of baking soda and sugar. California Restaurant got an extra set of hands when chef James Sherman, of Los Angeles, shared the kitchen range for a week with another native of LA, executive chef Karin Joffe. Easier risotto: making risotto to order is difficult in a restaurant (or at home) due to time, space and labour. Since risotto requires 20 to 25 minutes of constant stirring, cut the time by par-boiling the arborio rice (rice from the Piedmont region of Italy used in risotto) in advance. Cook it to the half-way point, then let it sit until you have an order. At the last minute, finish the dish in the classic way - by stirring and adding liquid. This will take about five minutes or so. Melting sugar: to make a perfect crust for creme brulee, forget using the broiler. Use a small blow torch to melt the granulated sugar. Venice came to Kowloon this month in an Italian promotion at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza. Elodio de Nardi, chef-patron of Trattoria Le Guaiane in Venice, pleased diners and staff with gutsy cooking. And tales. Skinning tomatoes: one way to remove the skin from tomatoes is blanching them in boiling water. But a faster method is to briefly dip the tomato in a deep-fryer, then plunge it in cold water. The complete skin slips off. This method is especially good with finicky baby tomatoes. Shelling scampi: to remove the shell from scampi, gently crush the body of the shellfish when it's wrapped in cloth (this protects the hands from the rough surfaces). The shell comes off and peels more easily. Students at American Pie volunteered to lick the spatulas in the chocolate classes by pastry chef Susan Jung and guest chef Jim Dodge, from Vermont. Meringue: one way to offset Hong Kong's humidity (which makes meringues weep) is by using powdered sugar instead of granulated. The small amount of cornstarch in the powdered sugar absorbs excess moisture, giving the baker a slightly better chance of making a meringue that's not soggy. Dish-washing: after making a caramel, the hardened sugar seems impossible to clean out of the pot. To rectify it, fill the pot with water, bring it to a boil and the hardened caramel dissolves. During the Hong Kong Food Festival, chef John McGannon, from San Francisco, shared some trucs with the chefs at Cafe Flipp. Roasting whole peppers (bell, chilli or whatever) over an open fire until charred, then sprinkle each with salt and place them in a paper bag for 10 minutes, the skins peel off easily. This technique allows the pepper to stay firm and not get mushy. The salt generates the heat to the immediate area next to the skin, allowing the skin to separate from the flesh before the flesh gets too cooked. In storing herbs, handle them as you would fresh flowers. Trim the bottoms of the stem and place them in a container of water, then loosely wrap the top leafy part of the herbs with a dry paper towel. This will preserve the herbs for up to one week in the refrigerator (this works well for dill, mint, chervil and chives). An exception is basil: store basil in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator to minimise any light which hastens deterioration. In storing stemmy or woody herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon and oregano), wrap in a dry paper towel and store in an air-tight plastic bag in the refrigerator. Before China Max opened in Times Square, chef John Clark, of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, came here weeks in advance to source foodstuffs and design recipes in the spirit of Zuni Cafe. Skinning almonds: blanch in boiling water, then drain. When you rub them, the skins come right off. Bowl control: ever need a third hand while mixing something in a round-bottomed bowl? Dampen a kitchen cloth and roll, lengthwise, into a long pillow. Coil into a donut shape, leaving a little space in the middle. Place your bowl in that pocket. It will stand steady while mixing because the damp cloth adds friction between the bowl and the counter. Chef Clayton Parker and food consultant Aline Ho introduced students to the subtle, sophisticated tastes of Vietnamese cuisine in their classes at Indochine. Never measure rice. Just put in one thumb knuckle more water above the rice line. When cooking any type of bean, add salt only at the end of the cooking period. Beans must absorb water in order to cook thoroughly. Adding salt only slows the absorption process. Need an extra hand in the kitchen? Rely on a pot of boiling water. Before you start the meal, put a large pot of water on to boil. Inevitably, the myriad kitchen chores (blanching, cooking pasta) always need a supply. This saves time. In a class on sponge cake, Patricia Moussempes, of Baker's Dozen, shared a truc for avoiding lumps in the batter. Set aside one tablespoon of sugar from the quantity of sugar called for in the sponge recipe. When you're ready to fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture, combine that reserved sugar with flour. Then begin the folding process. Use a slotted spoon for folding, not a spatula. It allows the mixture to be folded in without deflating the batter. The crisp wines and rustic food of New Zealand brought chefs G. Dawson and Tonya Booker to the Regal Hong Kong Hotel in April. If the rump or sirloin steaks are too tough, place them for a few hours in a mashed raw papaya. The enzymes in the fruit break down the meat structure and tenderise the meat.