If you’re anything like me you love to compile endless lists of Top 5’s. Top 5 flavours of icecream; Top 5 movies; Top 5 songs; Top 5 songs to listen to whilst compiling Top 5 list of songs….you get the picture.
One such list is a ‘Top 5 things I can always eat, even if I’m sick/not hungry/likely dead’. On this particular list features Wahaca’s refried beans or ‘little pots of crack’ as I prefer to think of them. Whenever friends and I visit Wahaca, and everyone begins to order under the collaborative principle of sharing, I insist on over-ordering refried beans and then I’m guaranteed to always have a pot put by me. I will then guard that pot like a rabid pitbull, ensuring I don’t have to share it with anyone else.
So, imagine my excitement when I got invited down to a cookery demo at Westfield Stratford’s branch of Wahaca recently to meet Thomasina Miers, the cartel drug-lord of refried beans, and get shown how to cook some Wahaca favourites. My heart skipped a beat – oh, sweet lord, what if she shows us how to make refried beans…
(I must start by apologising about the quality of my photos. I have had problems with my card reader for my ‘proper camera’ so am relying on the ones I took on my iPhone. I will try to update them with better ones as/when I can).
I arrived flustered after a long day in the office, yet pumped full of excitement. I really do love Wahaca. Whenever I’ve been, no matter which branch, I’ve always had a super time. The place is always energetic and teeming with people. The brand is strong and you witness it through the staff. They all seem genuinely happy to work there. Not a stroppy face, or a sulky demeanour in the whole place. It’s basically a great experience, with great food to boot.
Thomasina (or Tommi) was there to welcome us all. Having come straight from a day-long CEO summit in Central London, I imagined that rather than slave over creating dishes for the sake of some bloggers, she would much prefer to be heading home to crack open a bottle of Rioja and collapse into the sofa.
I was wrong.
It’s obvious that Tommi is one of those people who finds true pleasure and sanctuary in cooking. It’s where she feels right at home. As many of you will know, before launching Wahaca with her business partner Mark Selby, Tommi won the 2005 series of Masterchef (which happens to be in my Top 5 shows by the BBC). In true Masterchef challenge style, for this demo she set herself 30mins to produce 3 dishes from the Wahaca menu. These were:
A classic guacamole
Cucumber, beetroot, chilli and ricotta salad.
Sadly, not refried beans. I sobbed quietly into my Corona for a moment.
Tommi made it look effortless. Stood in her smart business attire, with a pinny tied round her waist she chopped, marinated, diced, scooped and mixed her way through the 3 dishes, whilst providing us with a running commentary throughout, comprised of fascinating facts about the ingredients (ie: if your avocados are not quite ripe enough, just pop them in a plastic bag with a banana overnight and they’ll ripen right up), and some stories from her extensive travels in Mexico.
When she had finished, she presented us with 3 picture-perfect dishes. Then came the funny part, she challenged us all to recreate the very same dishes, in the same timeframe, albeit it in small teams. Everyone paired up, yet as there was an uneven number I joined another pair to create the only team of three. I watched my team-mates smiling faces take a dramatic shift when I announced I am “considerably better at eating than I am at cooking” and then proceeded to pick up the enormous knife and wave it absent-mindedly around in everyone’s faces whilst I talked. We decided the best thing to do, as there were 3 of us, was to split the dishes between us. Needless to say I was given the guacamole as it was patently obvious that was the one I could do the least damage with. We were presented with plates of ingredients for each of the dishes and Tommi, her team, and some wide-eyed Wahaca diners watched on as we grunted, sweated and swore (well, I did at least) our way through delivering the dishes in time. At the end we all sat back and looked on with pride at our achievements. Tommi and her team came by, sampled our attempts and passed compliments on our efforts. Then we all retired to a large table to eat the fruits of our labour. Tommi handed out copies of her latest book – ‘Wahaca, Mexican food at home’, insisted we sample the Tamarind Margaritas, then chatted happily with everyone whilst I gorged impatiently on the food and chucked back margaritas with wild abandon.
All in all it was a super evening. It was full of laughs and good conversation. Tommi really is as god-darn nice as she looks, and so incredibly passionate about her food. There were a bunch of very lovely people working with her who made the event a roaring success, and my fellow bloggers were all cracking people.
As I sat on the tube on the way home, clutching my goodie bag containing a bottle of Wahaca own-brand sauce, some chilli seeds and Tommi’s book, I reflected on what a great evening it had been. I had made guacamole from scratch (my first time), I hadn’t poisoned or maimed anyone whilst preparing my food, that ‘pusher’ in sheep’s clothing Tommi had managed to wean me onto yet another addiction- Tamarind Margharitas! – and I had met some great people. All that was missing was a handbag full of refried beans. I opened the book and flicked wildly through the pages, before I found it, there, on page 148, in print, is the recipe for refried beans. I shall now be purchasing a mobile home, driving out into the wilderness and making batch after batch, which I shall NEVER share, not with a single soul!
Thank you Wahaca, and Tommi, for a truly Top 5 evening.
If you’d like to watch a short video of the evening then here it is:
Film credits go to ‘Westfield Stratford City Restaurants’.