Press ...

November Food Monthly, Evening Post, 2007.

A few hours attending a course at Hannah Hayes' Chinafeast Cookery School will banish the need for you to ever step foot into the local takeaway again writes TONY KNOTT

CHINAFEAST COOKERY SCHOOL is an original relaxed and fun way to learn how to create authentic and delectable Chinese food at home. It also let you into the trade secrets of this culinary art.

Hannah orginates from Taiwan which she admits was a good epicurean place to live and grow up. It gave her a real insight into the huge variations of regional cooking styles that exists in China - a kind of melting pot for the cooking post! "Taiwan" explains Hannah, "was, and is, the sanctuary for the sanctuary for the millions of Chinese who fled Moa Zedong's communist takeover of mainland China in 1948.

"They came to settle from all provinces of the vast Chinese continent bringing with them all their diverse culinary styles. It was a wonderful place to eat and, importantly, to learn how to cook the many regional Chinese dishes." I was invited to join my fellow "students" Alistair from Caversham Heights and Paul from Bristol for tuition in Chinese culinary skill... but first we stopped off at the See Woo Chinese supermarket in Cradock Road in Reading. This is an Aladdin's culinary cave where will find every imaginable ingredient and utensil for authentic Chinese cooking at a price that will underwhelm you. I bought a good-size steel work for under a tenner.

Back to the kitchen. Here Hannah firstly shows us how to put together her secret gastronomic weapon-seasoned soy sauce. Most UK supermarkets may offer a choice of a couple of soy sauces, light or dark! The Chinese supermarket will offer dozens, but Hannah's own will be the best of the lot. A dark soy sauce with a subtle piquancy that wehn added to Chinese dishes will enhance those three crucial elements of all Chinese cooking - colour, aroma and flavour.

Apart from the Cold Noodles with Pork and Fried Shallots, the Spicy Chicken - Kung Pao Chicken - Beef with Spicy Black Bean Sauce, Chinese Broccoli on Oyster Sauce the 'students' start with making a simple Spring Onion Chinese Pancake.

This is hands-on instruction, not lecturing. Generally Hannah limits her course numbers to around eight per session so everyone has the real opportunity to have a go.

And what kind of 'student' is attracted to her cookery courses? "Women mostly but there are an increasing number of men - but it does vary from course to course," explains Hannah.

Hannah's Monks' Spareribs

There is a lovely story behind this recipe. You have to understand that Buddhist Monks are not allowed to eat meat. But in the Chinese provincial town of Si Shuan, there was a restaurant next to a Buddhist monastery. It is said that the smell of the cooking of their speciality - spareribs - was so overwhelming and desirous, the monks used to visit the restaurant but not before having disguised themselves. They would feast on the forbidden food unrecognised and return to their mediation. Fortunately you don't have to disguise yourselves to enjoy this incredibly delicious port dish.

600g lean spareribs cut into 2 inch pieces
1 tbsp rice wine


2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp vinegar
4 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp water
5 pieces of thinly cut fresh ginger
5 doves of garlic crushed
2 star anise
To garnish - some coriander or spring onions

Place all the ingredients in a work or saucepan, bring to biol, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40 minutes or so.

Before seving turn up the heat to reduce the sauce, garnish with the coriander or spring onions and serve.

Hannah's tip: Do try and avoid the pre-packed supermarket spareribs as they will have little meat on them. Find your local traditional butcher and get him to chop the pieces of juicy meaty bones to size.

"Recently I had a group made up entirely of women. But men nowadays are taking an ever bigger interest in playing their part in the kitchen. I operate a gift voucher scheme where people can make a cookery course gift to their friends or family."

Today Paul, a builder, has come up from Bristol and is here as a result of a cookery course gift voucher from his wife. This is the first time he admits to having actually been in a kitchen apart from going in to turn on the kettle.

The worried look on his face today says more about how much his wife's shopping spree in The Oracle might cost him than any agonising over the amount of rice wine to put in the Spicy Chicken!

Two words you will not hear during the four-hour session are "monosodium glutamate".

With Hannah's cooking the last thing you will need is MSG to enhance anything. So, although she explains it use once, she never refers to that taboo again during the day.

The piece de resistance of the day has to be the preparation and eventual tasting of Peking Duck. Even a medium size duck can be quite a handful even when quite departed and trussed as Alistair and Paul found out.

With Chinese cookery, it's the preparation that takes the time. The duck is prepared and basted with clear honey, soy sauce, wine vinegar, fresh ginger, star anise and the inevitable spring onions.

It was a wonderful fulfilling day of preparing, cooking and eating wonderful Chinese food.

Hannah is the commensurate host. With her relaxed and good humoured approach we learnt a great deal.

For full details of Hannah Hayes Chinafeast Cookery School log onto her website: or call her on 07912 989810. fm