Mel Alafaci is the owner and executive chef at Vanilla Zulu Culinary Adventures in Teneriffe. The name ‘Vanilla Zulu’ pays homage to Mel’s South African heritage: she emigrated from Durban in 2008. The vibrant cooking school offers twenty (see here) varieties of classes: from French, to Italian, Carnivore, Pastries, Thai fusion and so many more. Mel’s culinary repertoire is quite startling in its diversity. Corporate team building and weddings are also proving very popular since Mel and her team moved from Wilston to a spacious locale on Commercial Road, complete with courtyard.
Whenever I travel overseas, the first thing on my itinerary is always a cooking school to explore the local cuisine. Some of my favourite travel memories are of cooking classes I’ve done in Chiang Mai, Rome and Koh Samui. Strangely enough, it’s not something I’ve thought to do while at home, in Brisbane! So, when Vanilla Zulu invited me to book in for a class that appealed to me, I was over the moon!
I had the pleasure of participating in the Sophisticated French cooking class last Wednesday evening. The night classes officially run for three hours, although we ran a little over time as Mel was impressively facilitating both a French and a Mediterranean class that evening. There weren’t quite enough numbers (8 minimum) for each class. Apparently, it doesn’t happen often, but it wouldn’t really matter if it did because it didn’t detract from the experience. If anything, we got to touch on more dishes, more techniques and had more yummy food to eat throughout the evening.
Attendees are encouraged to BYO and boy, did I wish I’d brought along a friend and a bottle of vino! Most other attendees enjoyed a rose, a sauvignon blanc or shiraz from beautiful stemware throughout the night. The class was made up of a work team doing a team building night, a couple of girlfriends bonding and another solo cook alongside me. It occurred to me at this point what a great gift idea these cooking classes would be for my Mum – she’s so difficult to buy for! I have pencilled in my diary to ensure I snag her a voucher for Christmas. You can get gift vouchers here.
Over the course of the evening we learned an impressive number of dishes. We baked focaccia and baguettes which we enjoyed with truffled butter. We compiled a gorgeous pear and rocket salad and ate it along with prosciutto and soft cheeses. We scored and salted 4kg of pork belly, braising it in a ‘culinary spray tan’* of turmeric, ras el hanout and salt. We seared porchini-crusted fillets of beef and served them with a brandy cream sauce, flambéed of course! A butter bean puree, perfect crème brulees, spiced chocolate brownies. One of the best insights I took away on the dessert front is that I need a better blow torch! Mel recommends a proper tradie-style one from Bunnings. Dylan, if you're reading this, it's my birthday in 29 days....
Mel is a rockstar: talented chef, funny, warm, inviting and utterly gorgeous. Her charm is enhanced by her lilting South African accent and vast arsenal of hilarious idioms. You can picture her on her own cooking show, or entertaining a crowd of thousands. Certainly you would feel in safe hands if you had booked a group of 60 for a corporate team-building day.
The classes at Vanilla Zulu are hands on, with a few demonstrations thrown in for good measure. Participants are encouraged to get involved with all stages of preparation and to sit down to enjoy full courses as they’re prepared. I enjoyed Mel’s focus on presentation as well as technique and flavour: so often I end up just slapping food on a plate after I’ve spent hours in the kitchen. I feel as though I’ll take a little more time, a little more care at that all-important plating stage in future. Especially for dinner parties, or for romantic dinners at home. Something as simple as adding edible flowers or twisting a handful of rocket before placing it in the middle of the salad plate makes all the difference. Mel even rocked my world with an onion-dicing technique I’d never seen before. I relayed it to Dylan as soon as I got home and it’s changed our kitchen lives forever!
Outside of the cooking classes, Vanilla Zulu offers a Six Week Chef Skills Course that I am so keen to enrol in – sauces, emulsions, deboning and trussing, curing, pasta making, knife skills, carving skills and more. I can only imagine how much I’d learn! Definitely something for 2019’s to-do list.
Mel also has a cookbook coming out soon: ‘Quickies in the Kitchen’ and it looks brilliant – a certain winner as a Christmas gift for that foodie in your life.
If you’d like to find out more about Mel and Vanilla Zulu, head to the website for more information. I’d like to thank Mel for having me along to the Sophisticated French Cooking Class and look forward to returning soon – perhaps for the African Culinary Safari next time!
*Get your own pot of Culinary Spray Tan and other Culinary Bling at Mel's online store.