Monday November 7, 2011
Maggi to the rescue
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE
By BRENDA BENEDICT
That staple brand for many Malaysians abroad is just as popular among Germans.
I had never given Maggi much thought other than considering its assam laksa and curry flavoured instant noodles a godsend during the cold winters of my law school days in London.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I first chanced upon the vivid yellow and red Maggi flagship store in Frankfurt. I was intrigued – especially with its iconic “knotted spoon” at the entrance.
Upon entering, my eyes were greeted by row upon row of sachets containing spice mixes for Hungarian goulash to vegetable casseroles, pork chops to even kung pao chicken. And, oh the soups! Chanterelle, broccoli, alphabet, leek – take your pick.
Stacked on shelves were also the various bouillon and soup cubes that have made the brand a household name. And naturally that common kitchen staple, Maggi Seasoning, packaged in its familiar tapered square brown bottle with the long, thin neck and signature yellow label. These are also available in miniature collector pieces.
Visitors can also choose from diverse Maggi paraphernalia, from vintage metal plate posters to computer mouses in the corporate colours.
Further back is the famous Maggi Kochstudio (cooking studio) where customers are introduced to cooking techniques and recipes using fresh ingredients and Maggi mixes. This concept, which dates back to 1959, is an innovative approach to informing customers on how to use the brand’s products while getting customer feedback for future product ideas.
Two weeks back, a girlfriend and I finally found a coinciding date in our diaries for one such session. The theme could not have been better suited to me: “Heart-warming autumn recipes”.
Finally, I would know how to cook the in-season root vegetables that I’d been receiving weekly from our organic fruit-n-veg deliverer! Being an amateur, I was stumped at how to prepare parsnips, beetroots and whole celery roots. Those of you sniggering at the celery bit, trust me, a whole root can be daunting. And pray tell me, what to do with a quince?
I was excited as I entered the studio and was handed my apron and a flute of Prosecco. I guess it helps calm frazzled nerves especially after it became clear that several of my course mates were regular attendees.
There were eight cooking stations complete with the ingredients, implements and related recipes. We trailed the instructors as they stopped at each station to explain the recipes and their ingredients besides doling out helpful advice, like how to handle knives.
Then it was time to draw lots to form teams to prepare the various starters, mains and desserts for a three-course menu. I was in Team 3 and we were to prepare two main dishes namely “Halibut with Grapes in a Riesling and Herb Sauce” and “Caramelised Root Vegetables”. My girlfriend meanwhile was in Team 4 and responsible for the “Mixed Salad with Pumpkin Mousse”.
My two teammates were polar opposites. One was a repeat attendee who could best be described a streber (eager beaver). Small talk irritated her and she was intent on getting things done ASAP. The other was a schickimicki (loosely translated as “trendy snob”), who swigged the Prosecco and tittered that she was “actually cooking”.
She was so “impressed” with my vegetable cubing skills that she thought I could “come work for them when they threw parties.” The cheek!
Generally, everyone was in high spirits and we managed to prepare our assigned dishes within the allotted 60 minutes.
The scents that wafted from the ovens and stoves set tummies rumbling. There was momentary wonderment at Station 5 as the topinambur shoots were removed from a boiling pot of water. Resembling ginger on the outside, the flesh resembled tapioca and had a strange plastic-y flavour. I would later discover its English name: Jerusalem artichoke.
Finally everyone sat down to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Each time a dish was presented, the group responsible would share their preparation experiences and receive a round of applause. Our caramelised root vegetables (which I cubed) received special mention.
By the time we finished sampling the two starters, seven mains and two desserts, we felt (and looked) like sated pythons. As such, the offer of a shot of schnapps to aid digestion was eagerly accepted.
We then “rolled” home with our goodie bags. For €40 (RM173), the course was well worth it.
If anything, I now know what topinambur is.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. She wishes she could attend the December sessions on preparing, among others, a Christmas goose.