Spatu.la: Cooking Course for Domestic Helpers
A new class has made its way into the Hong Kong cooking scene in recent months. So today we welcome Spatu.la to the neighborhood! This new kid on the block is located in a spacious multi-cooking station studio in Hang Hau, and offers a series of cooking classes specifically for domestic helpers to learn popular international flavors.
What is Spatu.la?
The face and name behind Spatu.la is Nathan Fleck, co-owner of Casa Group, which manages Hong Kong’s popular eateries carrying the same Casa name. Based out of Sai Kung, Nathan discovered a passion for food instruction when he taught a cooking class for kids at Sha Tin College. Soon after that well-received class, Nathan started hearing that the helper-employer community may benefit from this type of meal instruction and training. He knew that transferring the passion he had for food, coupled with the knowledge he has acquired over the 8 years in the food & beverage industry, could be a win-win situation for everyone. Spatu.la (a play on Nathan’s favorite kitchen utensil and Hong Kong’s way of adding “la” at the end of words) was born March 2016.
Spatu.la currently offers a 4-part “World Tour” cooking course for helpers. Each of the four classes highlights a different country (USA, Italy, UK, and Mexico) and teaches three to four popular dishes from that particularly country’s cuisine. The series also kicks off with a bonus 2-hour Kitchen Management class where participants learn knife/cutting techniques and food storage rules.
Spatu.la has found its home in a spacious studio within the Hang Hau “HH Space” building near Sai Kung. The studio is an ideal venue with 6 full cooking stations anchored by an instructor’s station in the front of the room. The room is naturally lit with large windows, which provide additional ventilation to the cooking fans above each station. Each station is also stocked with its own stove, sink, cooking utensils, and dishware.
Helpwise was invited to observe Week 2 of the World Tour, where Italian cuisine was the focus of the day. On the menu for this 4-hour session was:
- Handmade meatballs
- Simple 5-minute pasta carbonara
- Herb-crusted chicken tenders
- Lemon garlic feta salad
Our Behind-the-Scenes Visit
Before any participants arrive, Nathan has set up a table in the front of the room with the day’s ingredients. It turns out to be a wonderful way to inspire participants to delve into the menu as soon as they walk into the room. Behind the table sits a white board filled with notes and tips for each of the dishes to be cooked that day.
Even though this is only the 2nd class of this particular course, it is quickly apparent that Nathan and the participants have already established a rapport with one another as they greet each other with friendly conversation. Each cooking station is tagged with the participant’s name so Nathan can ensure he correctly addresses everyone on a first name basis. Participants prepare for the day by arranging their personal Spatu.la tote bags, aprons, and recipe books.
To start off the day, and also prior to cooking each dish, participants gather around the ingredients’ table at the front of the room. Nathan introduces each dish’s ingredients and communicates the cooking notes from the white board.
First up on the menu are the meatballs made with lotus root – a traditional Italian recipe with a crunchy bite of Hong Kong. Participants mince and grate the meatball components at their stations, with everyone getting hands-on experience: chopping, kneading, and rolling. There is no watching from the sidelines in this cooking class.
Nathan walks around the studio, demonstrating and commenting only when necessary. He notes that everyone has her own style when it comes to cooking, but that safety is essential and efficiency should be maximized. “Remember to use your fingers as a guide when chopping. Move the thumb out of the way,” he says, reminding participants of the knife techniques they learned at the introductory class.
Next up on the menu is the simple 5-minute pasta carbonara. The participants gather around Nathan’s cooking station for a watch-and-learn before he sets them loose to attempt to cook the tricky carbonara mixture of egg, pasta, water, and cheese on their own. During the quick demonstration, Nathan welcomes plenty of interaction and involvement by the participants, from taking turns tossing the pan like a pro to feeling the correct texture of an al dente spaghetti noodle.
Meatballs are loaded into the oven, and it is an opportune time to take a lunch intermission of pasta carbonara. One participant is eager to tell Nathan about a dish from the previous session she tried out on her employer’s family and Nathan encourages her with some alterations for an easy variation.
Over the next few hours, the class completes Parmesan crusted chicken tenders and preparation of a fresh feta salad with lemon vinaigrette and an additional walnut pesto pasta – a spontaneous addition to the day’s menu. Lastly, the participants are asked to pair up and cook the pasta carbonara without any guidance from Nathan. They’ll be cooking in their employer’s home unassisted, after all. Partners whisper to one another as they check for doneness of the pancetta; they work together as one hand pours the carbonara mixture while another hand quickly stirs to prevent scrambling.
By the end of class, the results of the last few hours of cooking are on display, as we see a complete Italian family spread before us. Everyone is still full of energy and excitement from what they have just accomplished. The participants eagerly gather their take-away boxes to share with their employers’ families.
Learning to cook at Spatu.la with Nathan is a refreshingly positive and lively experience for the domestic helper participants. Nathan’s friendly teaching style naturally encourages them to find their joy in cooking. The ladies seemed to really enjoy attending the class, finding camaraderie in others, and learning new kitchen skills from a respected cook and business owner in the F&B industry.
At the same time, though, Nathan leaves any intimidation that could come with his years of experience at the door. For example, one participant accidentally mixed raw egg and breadcrumbs together for dredging the chicken strips, when they needed to be kept separate for different layers of coating. Rather than throwing the egg mixture away or grumbling about the wasted ingredients, Nathan created a new dish with the mixture. Even mistakes can turn into something good in the Spatu.la kitchen.
Cooking with Spatu.la is the perfect fusion of instruction, venue, and people; a fun, knowledgeable instructor in a well-appointment cooking studio, and learning new skills with fellow domestic helpers.
After visiting one session of the “World Tour” cooking course, we are confident participants will have a fun, memorable, hands-on experience with any of Spatu.la’s classes. Employers will also benefit from their helpers learning how to use delicious ingredients that are practical for everyday use, while absorb-ing a variety of everyday cooking techniques and new recipes. Won’t you consider Spatu.la as your new kitchen tool?
Phone: +852 9236 7707