At RedBalloon we work with more than 1000 suppliers across Australia and New Zealand. One such supplier is Tonya Jennings who offers five different cooking classes through us including Modern Australian, French Odyssey, Passionately Italian, Marvellous Mediterranean and Master the Basics. Each and every supplier we work with has an interesting story to tell. This is Tonya’s…
Tell us about your cooking school.
I had always wanted to run a cooking school. In what feels like another life I was trained as a librarian and during that time I loved travelling to France. I loved the language, food, culture… everything about it! Years ago I attended a French cooking class of Di Holuigue’s and thought, “I want to do what she’s doing”. Di ended up becoming my mentor and had such a big impact on me – so much so that she helped me when I started up my own cooking school. When I decided that’s what I wanted to do, I went and retrained as a chef in Melbourne. I took a year off, did a fast-track course and loved every minute of it. I came back to the Sunshine Coast where I was living at the time and launched my own business, which was about 10 years ago. Then I returned to my hometown Melbourne four years ago and started the cooking school there.
Do you still travel to France?
I do. We spend 6-8 weeks a year there and take culinary groups to France. I’m very lucky that my work is such a pleasure.
Are you happier now than when you were a librarian?
I guess I am. Firstly because I’m my own boss so it’s nice to run your life – I can run the classes when I choose. I work hard but I love what I do. I love talking about food and I love sharing food with people. It doesn’t get much better than that.
What advice would you give to our customers who are thinking about doing a cooking class but who are afraid they can’t cook?
Well the cooking school is all about teaching people how to cook so that’s the first thing I say. You might be apprehensive but that’s the reason you want to come – to learn to cook. No one cooks on their own; you always cook in a pair or as a group of three. There are people who come to cooking classes to learn new things, there are people who are already quite good at cooking and there are people who just love being around food. Even when I travel and cook I still learn things.
When people come, it’s my job to put them at ease. Some people are genuinely nervous about the experience, so when they walk in the door, I do put them at ease. We have coffee or a cup of tea and a chat before we start the class. Hopefully by the time we start they’re very relaxed.
How do you describe the ideal student?
It’s a personality thing I think. When I was doing my marketing plans for my business I looked at the target market and the target market is really anyone who likes to enjoy food. My perfect student is someone who enjoys the pleasure of dining and eating, so it’s not an age or a gender thing. It’s just anyone who enjoys eating and dining.
What’s your favourite cuisine to cook?
I love French food and cooking. I’m happiest when I cook French food because I know it so well, but on the same token I’m quite passionate about my Italian classes and my modern Australian.
Gougères are cheese-flavoured savoury choux pastry puffs that are airy, yet chunky. They are a specialty of Burgundy and a great partner for a pinot noir. The cathedral town of Sens, in northern Burgundy, likes to claim credit for the original gougère. However, further south, Burgundians have long been serving this cheese pastry as their traditional accompaniment to a glass of Beaujolais. With some added sugar, this choux pastry technique is the same for making éclairs and cream puffs for the French Croquembouche, the beautiful celebration cake popular in France for first communions and wedding.
Makes about 24 small bite sized puffs
- 75g butter
- 170mL water
- Pinch of salt
- 100g French Comté, Gruyere or your favourite hard, tasty cheese, grated
- 100g plain flour, sifted
- Pinch of cayenne
- Approximately 3 x 70g eggs
- 3 rashers of bacon, finely chopped, optional
- 1 tbsp each of chives, or garlic chives, and parsley, finely chopped,
- Pinch of dry, flaked chili, optional
Line two baking trays with baking paper. A good tip is to dot a little oil onto the trays before lining with paper – this will stop it blowing around in a fan-forced oven.
Weigh the butter and cut into small cubes; place in a medium sized saucepan. Weigh the water directly into the same saucepan, add a pinch of salt, set aside. Prepare all other ingredients and set aside. Sift the flour and cayenne together; break the eggs into a bowl and lightly mix with a fork to break them; finely chop the bacon, parsley and chives.
Place the saucepan with the butter and water on medium heat; stir to dissolve all the butter; then bring the mixture to the boil. Ensure the butter is melted before the water boils to avoid loss of moisture. When the mixture has boiled, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat; add the sifted flour and cayenne all at once, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Turn down the heat a little, and return the pot to the heat. Continue beating until the dough, called a panada, pulls away from the sides of the pot and forms a ball; be careful that the pastry does not catch and burn on the bottom of the pot. Beat for about 3 minutes; the starch in the flour needs to be cooked in order to avoid a floury taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Transfer the panada to the mix-master bowl, fitted with a K beater. Mix on low speed briefly to allow panada to cool slightly; it can remain warm but it should not be too hot to touch. When sufficiently cooled, add the beaten eggs gradually beating into the panada until completely absorbed. The finished dough should be smooth, elastic and firm. To test for elasticity, take a small amount between the thumb and forefinger and pull fingers apart; the dough should stretch but still be firm enough to hold a shape.
Add the grated cheese, bacon and herbs to the dough, mix well. Place a teaspoonful onto a baking paper lined tray. Refrigerate until ready to cook. They may be frozen at this stage. When frozen, pack into freezer bags and label. Gougères may be kept frozen for up to 3 months.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 215°C, 200°C fan-forced, for 10 minutes. If you have steam use it at this stage or alternatively place a tray of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven. The addition of steam keeps the outside of the puffs soft allowing them to expand fully.
Lower the temperature to 190°C, or 180°C; remove the tray of water and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until well-browned and crisp. Gougère should still have a soft centre. Serve immediately whilst warm and still puffed.
Remember gougères should be slightly soft in the centre when cooked.
To bake frozen choux pastry
Remove the desired number of puffs from the freezer. Do not defrost. Place on a baking paper lined tray and bake at 200°C (190°C) for 10 minutes then lower to 180°C (170°C) for a further 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.