Magician of Moro Jack Montgomery | Posted: 15 September 2015
You'll learn to cook delicious dishes on these special weeks in Las Alpujarras in Spain
Tom Ryalls, top chef and encouraging cookery teacher for these gastronomic holidays in Las Alpujarras
Tom Ryalls demonstrates another

A walking holiday in Las Alpujarras with cooking lessons from a top chef thrown in? Sounds interesting and so it proved to be...

The pressure is building, all eyes are on the springy white blob yo-yoing with wild abandon from the palm of my hand, teasing the laws of gravity as though it believes it's part of a culinary circus act.

The pan is hot, stomachs are rumbling. There's no going back. Tom smiles and nods at the pan.

“Time to warka 'n' roll.”

In a week in which an army of highlights continually jostled each other for pole position, a lump of dough and a frying pan are the ingredients for a fun-filled and memorable experience that might just top them all.

That I'm confident enough to have a go at what is a complicated dish whilst having a ball in the process is down to the immensely likeable Tom Ryalls, formerly senior chef at London's prestigious Moro restaurant where he became an expert in the art of Moro cookery.

Tom is the antithesis of some of the volatile, cleaver-waving chefs of TV fame. He's cool, calm and collected with an engaging, self-deprecating and quietly mischievous sense of humour. His love and enthusiasm for cooking is infectious and he passes on priceless Moro cooking tips laced with delicious anecdotes.

Over the course of the week Tom has taken us from threading pickled onions, anchovies, chillies and olives onto cocktail sticks and breaking up salt cod for crispy croquettes to revealing the secrets of Moro's famous yoghurt cake and teaching us how to make the most artistic looking paella you're ever likely to set eyes upon.

He's also taught us how to reproduce the tastiest flatbreads my teeth have ever clamped down on. In essence, Tom has bestowed upon a small group of like-minded people who relish cooking, culture and cavorting around exquisite countrysides, the keys to a kingdom of tremendous tapas and mesmeric Moorish dishes.

Related Holidays

Life in an Alpujarran Village

We do not have any special gastronomic weeks planned for the near future, but as an alternative, why not spend a week at the delightful Casa Las Chimeneas to enjoy some fantastic walking in very varied scenery and gain unique insights into Alpujarran culture?

More about our walking holidays in the Alpujarras >

One of Tom's many endearing qualities is that he's more than a mentor, he's part of the group. Tom joined us on walks through the dreamy Las Alpujarras countryside and on a visit to Granada where he became animated when we stumbled across a shop displaying gleaming chef's knives.

He's interested to know about others' experiences of world cuisines and he watches intently whenever local cooks Soledad and Conchi take over the reins to prepare regional dishes such as migas.

Like the best of teachers, he has an appetite for continuous learning.

And he joins in at the end of the day as we wallow in the cosy embrace of Las Chimeneas' dining room, laughing, chatting, sharing fine wine and swapping stories. Tom's confidence-building encouragement and friendship has brought us to the point where, without fear of embarrassment, we will happily take on the gods of cooking chaos by treating a ball of dough (prepared in arm-numbing fashion by Tom) as though it is attached to the palm of the hand by elastic. Tom nods toward the pan again.

I bounce the dough back into my palm and hold it down for half a second on the hot pan, lift and repeat, lift and repeat until the surface is covered by the thinnest of pancakes. Tom carefully peels it off the pan and places it on greaseproof paper where it waits to be filled with anchovy, harissa paste, coriander and an egg and then fried quickly until transformed into an irresistible light and crispy brik full of North African flavours.

Thanks to Tom's guidance, I've successfully created something that may seem simple, yet requires skill. Others in our group take turns creating pancakes for their own briks; each is met with encouragement and supportive cheers. There's a collective sense of proud achievement and the briks taste doubly delicious as a result of being fashioned by our own hands.

It's a fittingly uplifting culmination to a week that has featured the most compelling ingredients. Dining on the best of food and, with Tom's endless patience, skills and good humour, being given the knowledge to recreate it back home is akin to getting to Valhalla without the irritating business of having to die first.

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