YWCA’s French Cooking Class
How would you like to come home to quiche lorraine or a warm pot of poulet basquaise? A tasty French meal is now within reach at YWCA’s popular “French Cooking Workshop for Helpers.”
What is the YWCA French Cooking Class?
The Hong Kong Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was established in 1920 and currently has over 70 units across Hong Kong. The YWCA headquarters, located in Central, is home to a full spectrum of educational and learning services for community members. Currently, there are over 30 cooking classes for domestic helpers.
The newest course for domestic helpers, French Cooking Workshop, has been popular among employ-ers who are eagerly sending their helpers to learn some impressive dishes and kitchen skills.
The teaching team behind this workshop is Taiwanese born Xiao Liang and French head chef Magali Vulin. If the name “Vulin” sounds familiar, it may be because Chef Megali is married to acclaimed head Chef Fabrice Vulin of 2-Michelin starred Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. But Chef Magali is quite decorated in her own right, with over 20 years of experience in cooking and kitchen management and First Prize winner of the National Education Competition in France.
The two met two years ago, as Liang began thinking about bringing the passion, fun, and delight of making and eating French food to the greater Hong Kong community. With decades of experience in the fashion industry, working at the likes of Elle magazine in New York and Paris, Liang knew she had the business drive to bring her idea into fruition. But first, she needed to find her chef. One day, while walking through the Alliance Francais in Hong Kong, Liang smelled the most delicious scent of fresh crepes filling the air. She followed the source of the fragrance into a kitchen where Chef Magali was teaching a cooking class. It was love at first smell and the start of a new partnership between Liang and Magali.
The duo recently began hosting their classes at the YWCA, and Helpwise was invited to visit the final session of their 5-week cooking workshop for domestic helpers. Pissaladiere d’ete (Summer tarte/pizza with onions, olives, tomatoes) and Soupe de tomate (Tomato soup) were on the menu for that particular day, but students also learn some of the following dishes throughout the course:
- Quiche Lorraine and Riz au lait (Rice pudding)
- Roti de porc (Roasted Pork) and Gratin Dauphinois (Potatoes gratin)
- Tourte de Volaille (Chicken Pie) and Ives Flottantes (Meringue and creme anglais)
- Poulet Basquaise (Basque-style braised chicken) and Tarte au citron (Lemon tart)
Our Behind-The-Scenes Visit
We arrive at the kitchen studio and Liang and Chef Magali are busy preparing the large professional-grade kitchen studio for the 10 domestic helper participants set to arrive. On one side of the room, Liang is setting out individual aprons, menus and name tags for the participants. On the other side, Chef Vulin is preparing the day’s ingredients.
As the participants arrive, we immediately see the warm rapport the two instructors have with their stu-dents as they greet each other with smiles and joyful conversations about the pictures of their cooking sent through their WhatsApp class group.
After the instructors remind everyone the first steps in the kitchen – put on the apron and wash their hands, the class gathers around the main stove as Chef Magali introduces the Pissaladiere d’ete dish. She describes it as a family favorite, easy for the kids, reminiscent of Italy’s pizza. A large tray full of onions is to be sliced and caramelized, so the participants get right to work. They take turns slicing the onions with the mandolin as Chef Magali observes how they hold the vegetable, chiming in when a fin-ger gets a little too close to the blade. At the same time, Chef Magali demonstrates how to cook the onions with olive oil. She explains that in addition to being a healthier alternative to butter, it is actually more common to find olive oil used in dishes from the southern region of France.
As the onions are slowly cooking, Magali starts braising the tomatoes for the the soup de tomate. It is the perfect opportunity to talk about fresh potted herbs strategically placed throughout the kitchen. She asks participants to smell each herb with her eyes closed to help remember the scent while she cooks. “Thyme brings out the lemon flavors…reminds me of my childhood.”
Next, Magali shows the class how to prepare the dough for the pissaladiere. While she uses her hands to add ingredients in the standing mixer, there is no hesitation as she also speaks to a wealth of cooking tips to the on-looking participants: crack the eggs in a separate bowl in case you have a bad egg; dissolve salt in water before adding the yeast to minimize elasticity of the dough.
Liang and Magali had diligently prepared dough before class so the participants could each make a pissaladiere to take home to their employer. Magali watches as each participant rolls her dough to the correct thickness and lay it into her tart pan. As needed, she chimes in with “it’s still a little too thick” or “press the dough down from the side of the pan.”
Next Magali demonstrates how to fill the pissaladiere with the various toppings: caramelized onions, olives, tomatoes, anchovies, and more fresh herbs! Each participant follows suit and fills her tart pan accordingly.
Over the course of 2 hours the group completes the pissaladiere d’ete along with a chilled soupe de tomate. It is a real team effort to prepare these beautiful dishes: some women peeled and chopped the garlic for the soup; other women cut and cleaned the fresh herbs straight from the potted plants; others helped garnish the dishes. All these tasks performed under the leadership and artistic eye of Chef Magali.
Learning to cook with Liang and Chef Magali is a special experience. Over the course of the 5 week program, participants thrive as Liang takes the participants under her wing and creates a way for the participants to support one another through their WhatsApp group. They exchange pictures of the dishes they cook, and everyone learns from each other’s attempts at executing the recipes at home. Participants also glean one-of-a-kind professional cooking techniques and nuggets of cooking wisdom from Chef Magali. She is their designated cheerleader, with animated statements such as; “If you want to be a professional cook, then act like a professional in your kitchen!”
We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to witness the last session of the program where each participant received a certificate and warm hugs and smiles from the instructors for weeks of hard work. To top it all off, as a lovely gesture of appreciation, each participant is sent off with a delectable box of sweet French treats.
With a perfect recipe of professionalism, thoughtfulness, and fun, the French Cooking Class offered by the YWCA, offers a memorable and rewarding experience for your domestic helper, and it will certainly bring a taste of southern France into your home.
YWCA CLLE also provides First Aid training, Kitchen Management, and a variety of other cooking courses for domestic helpers.