Chef Mel Alafaci's Vanilla Zulu Cooking Class, spot Mel in our Springfield Chef Jacket
'Queen of Culinary Bling' Chef Mel Alafaci talks to us about her culinary style and her fresh approach to teaching her skills. Chef Mel’s cooking school, Vanilla Zulu, makes the culinary journey fun, by offering classes that are far from daunting, but rather relaxed and entertaining.
Tell us about Vanilla Zulu and your inspiration behind the cooking school
Vanilla Zulu is my second cooking school, my first was in Durban, South Africa which I ran for 8 years before immigrating. Vanilla Zulu started out in gorgeous Wilston and I have just relocated to a bigger and better premises in popular Teneriffe. I think I was inspired to teach cooking because of that glorious little light that goes on in someone’s eyes when you show them just how easy it is to be fabulous and successful in the kitchen. It really means the world to me when I show someone a complicated cheffy skill my way and break it down for them, and they manage to replicate what I did. I love that little smile of self-achievement that they experience, and it really is what inspires me every time. I think ultimately, I love to create happy and confident foodies that can go and spin that skill their way and really own it. I really do love teaching how to be happy in the kitchen.
Describe your culinary style and values
My food is fun, colourful and fresh. I always cook with what is in season, as it just makes sense. I love to create dishes full of flavour, colour AND texture, I think that is my secret to success: adding culinary bling to the dish to accessorise it and make it really perfect. It's not fussy or time consuming either. All my dishes are quick, easy and low maintenance. I will always find the shortcuts and I think that's why my recipes and classes are so popular. It can be the most simple, inexpensive dish dressed up to look much more expensive than it really is. It's the fun and the passion on the plate that shows you care, not how much you spent. Although I do like the glamorous ingredients too.
Chef Mel Alafaci's New Premise for the Vanilla Zulu Cooking Class, teaching in style with our Springfield Chef Jacket
In what ways do you bring adventure into your classes?
There is always another way to do something. The adventure is when all of us foodies and want-to-be foodies get together and create and share and learn. I love to rehash and reinvent the same dish. I always say it's like having your favourite little black dress or suit. New earrings, new cufflinks, new shoes = new outfit. To me it's the same with cooking. Using different spices, themes and accompaniments can often transform a dish. I also make sure I always share everything I know about a dish or an ingredient. It's all about the food journey and bringing people from all walks of life together. I not only love food, I love people too, so this really is the perfect job for me.
Left to right: Death by Chocolate, Croquembouche, Teacup Panna Cotta.
Describe your students favourite Vanilla Zulu dish
I think it's the Death by Chocolate platter featuring a spiced ras el hanout and roast strawberry brownie. It's decadent, fun and so very beautiful...but it's also terribly easy to make and construct. I reveal all my secrets and it really does get them excited to try this at home. The most popular main is the Free Range Pork Belly with perfect crackling on a happy yellow butterbean puree and all the trimmings. Starters would have to be my signature feasting table with my famous rosemary and black salt focaccia with whipped truffle butter and high heel of prosciutto.
What are some key tips that you pass on to your students
There are a few cheffy tricks I reveal at the beginning of each class:
How has Brisbane's culinary scene inspired the direction of your classes?
Brisbane's food scene has totally transformed in the ten years I've been here. And it's just wonderful to be a part of that. Our culinary horizons have opened up to the wonderful cultures that make up this vibrant city. People are so willing to share their food cultures as well as try different global interpretations. We truly are a rainbow culture of foodies. Makes for some seriously exciting culinary adventures. This adventurous Brisbane spirit has led to some of my classes being designed. Eat yourself sexy, Around the World, African Safari and of course the usual suspects...Italian, Spanish, Asian and in particular Thai are my best sellers.
What is in the pipeline for you and Vanilla Zulu?
Vanilla Zulu has just tripled in size which is very exciting. We still have that wonderful personal experience but can now take bigger corporate team building events and foodie weddings. I am also working on my book "Quickies in the Kitchen - a chef's guide on how to be happy, more efficient, and more confident in the kitchen”. I also have my own in-house TV Show on YouTube called Kitchen Angel, where I save people from kitchen disasters and upskill them!
What advice would you offer to those looking to move into the culinary industry?
For me it's a dream come true, but the real kitchens are far more demanding and stressful than my wonderful air-conditioned cooking studio! My passion has always been food and people, so if your passion is food, start that foodie journey as soon as you can because ultimately the foodie wave has only just begun and there is plenty of room for all of us.
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