“If you want to learn to respect good food, work in a Japanese kitchen,” Canadian Chef Nolan Ledarney told us fondly of his experiences in Japan.
Or, go to Umami Concepts. There’s no disputing that we’re all big food fans here at the office and luckily for us, Chef Nolan’s studio kitchen session was exactly what we didn’t know we needed. This classy private cooking space hidden in plain sight on Bonham Road is a place for you and your friends to come together and whip up a scrumptious meal (all under Chef Nolan’s careful guidance) before settling down to enjoy your creations!
It’s a little tricky to find, especially since the numbering on Bonham Road is absolutely ridiculous – more than a few of our Sassy Girls had trouble finding it. (Tip: Walk all the way down Bonham if you’re coming from Caine Road and it’s the apartment building before Park n’ Shop International. Then curse the city planner who designed Bonham Road.) However once we got into the beautiful space, all of our stresses faded away. It was as though we’d stepped right into a chic New York penthouse, with an interior design aesthetic to-die-for that included vintage furniture, gorgeous art and, naturally, an enviable kitchen. I never wanted to leave.
Once we all arrived, we indulged in some vino before we started cooking – yes, you can bring your own alcohol, ladies! Nolan himself was a warm, vibrant presence with a knack for storytelling and we hung onto his every last word as he told us about his life and Umami Concepts.
Having worked internationally in a number of luxury restaurants for a number of years, Nolan set up Umami Concepts to provide Hong Kong with a unique cooking experience; one that invited people to share in his love of preparing food while indulging in another universal love – eating it. As he told us more and more, his energy and passion was absolutely contagious.
Nolan waved us off to wash our hands before we got started: there was no disputing the hygiene in this spotless kitchen. He gave us a quick rundown of what we’d be cooking, along with an easy to follow rundown of what we needed to do. We were making a few special recipes he’d created for the day: a fresh tomato and pepper tartare and savoury scones to start, a pumpkin gnocchi for the craftier Sassy cooks, a gorgeous slow roasted pork belly (which Nolan had already made for us) and finally, a vanilla caramel oven-baked apple.
It was left to us to divvy up the different work stations, thoughtfully prepared so that the less experienced (and more inebriated of us, Nolan suggested with a grin) could help plate appetisers, whereas the more experienced cooks could head on over to the technically demanding gnocchi station. Surprisingly, there was enough room for all 15-20 of us and we all got to work making our meals.
The great thing about the entire experience was how much fun we had as a team outside of the office, laughing and joking with one another towards a delicious meal (more on that later!). Nolan joined in the general chatter as well, stopping us every now and again to teach us a couple of cooking tips and tricks which we could take to our own kitchens.
Of course, with a room of Sassy Girls and a bit of bubbly, things were bound to get a bit silly and Lauren and I found ourselves having to dodge Shaneli’s dough covered hands!
When everything was finished just over an hour later, we were all led to a beautifully laid out table by a smiling waiter, and got stuck in!
Within seconds, our appetiser was brought out to us – cold cuts on thin crisp-bread with our meticulously prepared tomato and red pepper salsa – which was a refreshing start to the entire meal. Instantly, we were wowed by the combinations of flavours and high quality of all the ingredients from the hint of basil to the fresh crunch of the tomatoes. The scones were fabulous too (thanks Shaneli and Divya) and the butter perfectly completed them.
After that, we moved onto pork belly on a bed of pumpkin gnocchi and it was divine. The meat was so tender it practically slid off my knife and burst with flavour, and Leslie and Simran’s impressive pumpkin gnocchi was perfectly seasoned.
Finally, we moved onto one of our favourite courses: dessert! The moment the apples were pulled out of the oven, everyone gasped at the incredible smell that filled the whole studio kitchen. I was actually pleasantly surprised that the apples weren’t overwhelmingly sweet – I had been expecting a taste similar to the overwhelming toffee apples of my childhood – but these were more mature, with a delicately spiced and well balanced sweetness that had me digging my spoon in for more and more.
When you’re at work, you don’t really get the time to sit down and really just get to know the people around you. Umami Concepts was one of the best things that could have happened to our team, allowing us all to just relax in a beautiful environment and have fun creating a wonderful home cooked dinner (with a bit of gourmet pizzazz, of course).
By the time we had all finished, some of the girls on our team were even asking about making bookings for birthday parties and Thanksgiving parties, and if that doesn’t tell you how much we loved the experience, we don’t know what will. Perfect for birthday parties, team building and special occasions, Umami Concepts is an amazing place to learn about the food you’ll love with the people you love. With Chef Nolan at the helm, you’ll be sure to demand seconds.
Umami Concepts, 35 Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 5161 5900, www.umamicollaborative.com