Asian Home Cooking Demystified, One Wok Star at a Time

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What do three accountants, two food bloggers, a planning director at Macy's, a college student and his mom, and a special events associate at United Way have in common?  Don't feel bad if you're stumped, because last week, the answer would be not much.  Not even comparable cooking experience. 

What a difference a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon with Eleanor Hoh makes.

Thanks to the instruction of this enthusiastic culinary entrepreneur, the members of this motley crew can now call themselves "Wok Stars," able to pull together simple Asian meals at home combining a few techniques and ingredients in a hot wok.

Contrary to what many chefs these days would have you think, Disney

probably put it best in the animated feature, Ratatouille.  Chef

Gusteau's motto?  Anyone can cook.  In Eleanor Hoh's case, it's anyone

can wok.

The mission is simple: gather at the Arclinea kitchen showroom in Coral Gables, help Hoh make (and eat) three wok-based dishes, and learn her

recipe-free "road map" for cooking them at home -- leaving room for

interpretation, of course. Along the way, meet some interesting people, have some laughs and even network for business.

Hushed by an appetizer of lettuce "tacos" with ground turkey and diced veggies on hoisin-painted romaine leaves, the group listens as Hoh, one by one, introduces its constituents. By heart.  The process of course began days in advance via email, the kind of organization that would give Martha Stewart - even the Gotti family - a run for their money.  With a background in computers, it all comes naturally to Hoh, and the accountants.  She has an incredible memory.  She loves alternate uses for storage containers, like powdered sugar shakers for corn starch to eliminate clumping so it can be immediately added to hot liquid without a slurry.  Acronyms and diagrams, laminated leaflets and instructional DVDs, are all second nature to Hoh -- elements more foreign to most home kitchens than a Michelin star. 

Thanks to Hoh's engaging personality, it somehow works.  She's fusion personified.  Growing up in Hong Kong, the passion for cooking began young, at her mother's side.  "She was very free form," shares Hoh, likely explaining much of her signature approach today.  A move to London for boarding school and its "boring, bland food" proved motivation to take matters into her own hands later on.

Like the R&R necessary to maintain one's sanity juggling work and life, Hoh lovingly refers to the

essential foundation of any Asian dish as G&G: garlic and ginger.  With a shower caddy of Tamari (Japanese soy sauce,) vegetable oil, sherry, white pepper (favored by Asians,) and bean and chili garlic sauces by your side, stir fried vegetables are a snap. Vegetables always come first, cooking time according to firmness and cut size, and are removed before the meat is added.  Shrimp get a quick sear with more ginger and garlic, and chunks, rather than fillet, of tilapia are braised in sauce to an almost halibut tenderness, but more delicate.

Don't expect to have a lot of hands-on time with the wok at a Wok Star class.  And the closest you'll come to a knife is watching Hoh demo the Asian-style cut. Assistant (Johnson & Wales student) Haylie Lancman also does much of the heavy lifting with her expertly assembled mise en place, roast pork (which she learned how to make on a recent trip to China) and steamed red rice via rice cooker.  You, however, will leave armed with the tools to re-create that ever evasive "restaurant taste" at home.  And that's reason enough for us to declare mission accomplished.

Eleanor Hoh, the original Wok Star, can be found online on her website and blog.  Her Wok Star kit (about $150 after tax) includes a pre-seasoned wok with its specialized spatula and heat-resistant handle"mits" of her own patented design, containers with various sauces and spices, refresher DVDs, and a useful list of Asian markets and restaurants around town that get the Wok Star seal of approval.

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