Master class in the kitchen

By Young Wang

Cooking requires as much passion and creativity as skill, reporter Young Wang learned during her on-the-job training.

By Young Wang |

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Young Wang (left) gets a culinary lesson from Chef Matthieu Bonnier.

How many times have I cooked in my life before? I can count on one hand. I've never even had the slightest interest in cooking - don't get me wrong, I do like delicious food, colourful pots, delicate silverware, but all the chopping, mincing and boiling in the kitchen? No, thanks.

Though my mum nags about this, she hasn't been able to drag me into the kitchen. But just as I thought I could get away, Young Post sent me for a day at The French Window in Central. Luckily, I got the chance to learn from the best. Chef Matthieu Bonnier from Brittany, France, has been working in the kitchen since he was a kid - his first gig, at a pizza place, came when he was only 12 - and he was kind enough to teach me his mother's recipe for steamed mussels.

It's a "Sunday dish" that she cooked for the family, and it was made up of leftovers in the fridge.

Just preparing the ingredients would have been a big challenge for me, but as I walked into the kitchen, I was surprised and relieved to find that they were all washed and lined up on a chopping board.

Though I am a mere beginner, I got the full-on chef treatment - everything was ready, I just had to do the cooking.

"This should be easy," I told myself, looking at the mussels, bacon, white wine, raspberry vinegar, pre-made garlic butter and the other items."Put everything inside [the pot], you close, you wait and bam!" Bonnier told me, making cooking sound so easy.

And so, as I put on my chef's jacket, I officially embarked on my new career as a Western cuisine chef.

I followed Bonnier's every move: heating the brightly yellow Le Creuset pot, frying the bacon, throwing in the mussels and vinegar, adding a slab of butter, pouring white wine for seasoning …

However, I was nervous. Would I live up to my master's expectations? Was my timing right? Like, when to throw in the mussels, when to close the pot, how long to boil, and all those crucial steps that help to cook up the perfect dish.

It was interesting to see how the heat opened up the fresh mussels, and how seawater oozed out of them.

You'd think that once the mussels are ready to eat, my work would be done. Not so fast! Bonnier offered another important piece of advice.

Throughout the day, I had been told that the key to a good dish is a good selection of ingredients, and in this case, the mussels needed a finishing touch.

Bonnier took out a smaller pot so I could lay out the dish to give it a more appealing look. To complete the dish, I gently and casually dropped in some croutons and a little bit of thyme.

Tender and juicy, my steamed mussels turned out just as good as Bonnier's.

Of course, he made the process look effortless while my cooking session was filled with hesitation and questions.

The most important lesson I've learned, though, is that cooking is personal. "Don't limit yourself to a recipe in a book. All recipes are created in the mind and you can create your own," Bonnier said.

I will take the advice to heart. From now on, please call me Chef Young. Bon appétit!