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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sydney Seafood School: Mark Best

"Noone ever died from good food," says Mark Best, as he adds another generous handful of salt to a pot of boiling water.

The crowd laughs with relief. I'm at the Sydney Seafood School and tonight's class is being led by Mark, chef and owner of three-hatted restaurant Marque.

The Sydney Seafood School underwent a major facelift in 2009, led by hospitality design specialist Michael McCann. The glass door entrance -- opposite Doyles on the ground floor of Sydney Fish Market -- gives nothing away about the state-of-the-art cooking facilities upstairs.

Sydney Seafood School tiered auditorium

Most classes at the Sydney Seafood School commence in the auditorium, a slick design of semi-circular tiered seating facing a demonstration kitchen. Each seat comes with the flip-up side table you remember from uni (designed for right-handers, of course), but what's most impressive is the four camera set-up, positioned so key elements of the kitchen bench are projected onto giant plasma screens above.

Slicing the pastrami kingfish

Fresh from his trip to New York (oh look, who's that on the Martha Stewart Show?), Mark explained his first dish was inspired by the city's famous pastrami on rye. In his healthier and lighter version, he substituted beef with the loin of a sashimi-grade yellowtail kingfish, first curing it in brown sugar, salt, lemon zest and thyme leaves.

The fish is rinsed then rubbed in a ground-up mixture of freshly roasted spices, including coriander seeds, white peppercorns, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and Spanish smoked paprika. At least 30 minutes is recommended for the spice mix to permeate the fish, creating a darker tinge on the edges that is so reminiscent of pastrami.

Pastrami of kingfish on rye

The kingfish is sliced and plated on salted cabbage leaves (like a mild version of sauerkraut) and garnished with rye crumbs, a genius idea of Ryvita cracker crumbs pan-fried in butter.

Kingfish belly with spice rub

Mark recommends the leftover kingfish belly be rubbed with the excess spice mix and then barbecued skin-side down for maximum crispness. A green tomato gazpacho is recommended and demonstrated as an accompaniment.

Grilled loligo squid with spinach and anchovy

Mark's final dish is a grilled loligo squid, gutted but left with the skin on, that is marinated simply in garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper before the tubes are finished on the grill.

Spinach and anchovy puree is a simple blitz of wilted spinach leaves with Ortiz anchovies. Too many household cooks don't use enough when cooking, he'd bemoaned, resulting in food that is under-seasoned. Mark believes there is a noticeable difference in taste between adding salt during the cooking process, and adding it at the table. When cooking vegetables in boiling water, he says, the water should be as salty as sea water. Plunging the spinach leaves in iced water will stop the cooking process, and help retain vibrancy of colour.

The spinach and anchovy puree is moistened with a splash of olive oil in the food processor. In his signature deadpan voice he reminds the audience that "you're playing with a feather, not a fire hose".

Cooking the squid on the grill

We migrate next door to the hands-on kitchen and break up into groups of five to cook. The island bench tops are impressive, fully equipped work stations with refrigerated drawers, a fancy ceramic cooktop with pop-up gas burners, and pre-stocked with all our necessary ingredients, crockery, tools and utensils. Lined up on the side the room are the barbecue grills.

It feels a bit like MasterChef with each person quickly volunteering to take responsibility for a dish. Two staff members float through the room, making sure everyone is prepping in the recommended order. Mark ambles across to each station for a quick one-on-one chat with everyone (the highlight of his US trip was visiting Blue Hill Stone Barns which he says has a very similar philosophy to Noma).

Barbecued squid

It doesn't take for everything to come together, and we plate up and head next door. We even have pre-allocated tables which we have to set with crockery, glassware and cutlery. I volunteer to set our  table, feeling a bit like one of the trainees in the recent BBC series Michel Roux's Service (if you haven't watched it, get onto it asap!).

A drop of white wine with dinner

We eat dinner together, and it's no surprise that everyone is a food lover and keen amateur cook. Our food all tastes fantastic, especially the squid. I'm a huge fan of the barbecued kingfish belly too. The pastrami of kingfish would be an ideal entree to prepare ahead for a dinner party. 

Grilled loligo squid with spinach and anchovy

Green tomato gazpacho

Pastrami of kingfish on rye

Kingfish belly with spice rub

There's plenty of leftovers to take home, packed away in takeaway containers that magically appear. The best part? There's no washing up to do - we simply stack our dishes into basins just like school camp.

The classes are well-organised and do a great job of illustrating the importance of obtaining quality and fresh seafood, and how it can be used for a range of delicious meals. Other classes include Singapore chilli crab, tapas, sashimi, seafood barbecue and a range of special guest chefs. A list of upcoming classes at the Sydney Seafood School can be found here.

Grab Your Fork attended the Mark Best cooking class as a guest of the Sydney Seafood School.

View Larger Map

First floor of the Waterfront Arcade
Sydney Fish Market
Bank Street, Pyrmont, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9004 1111

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27 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 2/23/2011 02:43:00 am


  • At 2/23/2011 2:53 am, Blogger Peggy said…

    This sounds like an amazing experience!

  • At 2/23/2011 4:51 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I thought the kingfish was Chinese bbq pork! LOL

  • At 2/23/2011 7:44 am, Anonymous Erin@TheFoodMentalist said…

    YUM! Especially like the look of the squid!

  • At 2/23/2011 8:59 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    Yummo - the kingfish sounds sensational!

  • At 2/23/2011 9:01 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Wow! For someone who needs to add more seafood to their diet this class sounds fantastic! The kingfish on "rye" sounds amazing!

  • At 2/23/2011 9:03 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    that's one fantastic looking kitchen combined with a top chef and great produce. must have been one amazing dinner :-)

  • At 2/23/2011 9:16 am, Blogger Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said…

    I just had a random thought of suze's heart skipping a beat when you mentioned pastrami, the kingfish would make for a interesting reuben.

    I find it very tricky to cook seafood well - and these classes would be a perfect way to learn to how not to stuff up fresh seafood!

  • At 2/23/2011 9:35 am, Blogger K said…

    I'm always too scared to cook fish. I know so little about them and they all look the same to me! This class seems perfect!

  • At 2/23/2011 9:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've been curious about these cooking classes, they seem to be worthwhile. I love the idea of the kingfish "pastrami".

  • At 2/23/2011 10:02 am, Anonymous OohLookBel said…

    I've done a couple of classes at the Seafood School, and they've been brilliant. No leftovers, though, so you were lucky! The dishes you cooked look amazing.

  • At 2/23/2011 10:29 am, Anonymous Sneh | Cook Republic said…

    Looks like you had fun Helen! :-)

    Oh my BBQ Squid, that looks amazing. What a fantastic experience!

  • At 2/23/2011 10:34 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    lol @ gianna haha yes i totally perked up at seeing the word pastrami!

  • At 2/23/2011 11:29 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh heavens, I want that pastrami kingfish so badly! I love intense flavours such as those used in the curing process :) And seeing as I don't much love beef, this is a pastrami win and a half for me!

  • At 2/23/2011 11:40 am, Anonymous Melissa said…

    that seems like an awesome cooking class with hands on cooking and eating, best of all no washing up! bbq squid must tasted delicious!

  • At 2/23/2011 8:18 pm, Blogger Maria said…

    I walked past this once and was really impressed with the facilities! I'd love to try one of their classes :-)

  • At 2/23/2011 8:54 pm, Blogger Jen said…

    The squid with spinach and anchovies looks delicious and achievable at home too.

  • At 2/23/2011 11:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    what channel is michel roux's service on?

  • At 2/24/2011 1:07 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - It hasn't aired in Australia yet but you should be able to find some links online.

  • At 2/24/2011 8:39 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    What a fantastic class. Ps Love Michel Roux's service - love Michel Roux full stop he is so lovely!

  • At 2/24/2011 10:05 am, Anonymous JT @ areyouhungary said…

    Oh goodness, that has to be one of the best cooking classses I've seen yet. I love pastrami and am so excited about the thought of it in kingfish form, there's someting about a peppery, herby, salty crust which is pretty much irresistable to me!

  • At 2/24/2011 10:06 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Have been meaning to try and book us into one of these classes and then I completely forgot about it. That bbq kingfish sure looks amazing! Bet it tasted amazing too =)

  • At 2/24/2011 10:20 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What an invaluable occasion to be able to cook and learn from one of the industry best. We (your readers) benefit from reading your post :)

  • At 2/24/2011 1:50 pm, Blogger Georgia said…

    I've been hankering for some squid lately and those pictures are making the need even more urgent - looks like an amazing day!

  • At 2/24/2011 1:59 pm, Anonymous aparrafan said…

    I attended this class as well. My first cooking class since Home Ec in high school and I had so much fun I will definitely be booking another class. Helen if I had known you were also in the class I would have asked for an autograph for my friend who is a major fan of your blog.

  • At 2/24/2011 11:38 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi aparrafan - Awww! Usually I try to be discreet, although I did take a few pics with the camera. It was a great class wasn't it? I must recreate than spinach - I could just eat it with a spoon!

  • At 2/27/2011 9:08 pm, Anonymous sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Wow look at it now! I did a sushi/sashimi course here before the renos. Have to go back and try a few more classes.

    That kingfish pastrami, nice :)

  • At 3/01/2011 4:23 pm, Anonymous Jessica Harding said…

    I'm the public relations coordinator at Sydney Fish Market.
    Want to go to a SSS class for free? Join our facebook page and look out for competition details soon... http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sydney-Fish-Market/136848086371453
    Kind Regards,


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