Hayley McLarin goes full steam ahead at yum cha class.

If you have eaten where Paulie Hooton was chef, you're likely to have started with a drink in the bar, perusing the menu, before sitting down to a delicious meal made with the freshest ingredients.

It may have been The Oyster Inn on Waiheke Island were Hooton lives, or Viaduct haunts such as Euro or Soul Bar & Bistro.

I enjoyed a pre-dinner Babich albarino, looking over the menu before experiencing food created by this 25-year veteran - at school, the Auckland Seafood School.


Hooton has swapped cooking at fine-dining establishments, to help you learn how to cook restaurant-quality dishes at home.

It is hard to imagine this kind, patient soul fitting into high-intensity, adrenaline-fuelled kitchens. If he is frustrated by this collection of more than 20 novices, he doesn't show it.

"I am just stoked that people want to come along and learn how to cook seafood," Hooton the school's head chef, says. "I have one of the greatest jobs, I get to see someone cook their own meal and have a sense of satisfaction.

"When I worked in restaurants there was nothing better than a waiter saying table 22 loved their food – this way I get to see people creating a mini-restaurant for themselves."
Indeed, this yum cha class took on the same frenetic pace of your favourite yum cha restaurant.

Dumplins at seafood cooking class.
Dumplins at seafood cooking class.

We started in the lecture-style gallery, with the mirrors above the countertop providing everyone with a clear view of what we were about to make.

At this three-hour class, Hooton was assisted by up-and-coming Judge Bao "sauce boss" Jamie Johnston.

Together they provided a seamless tag team of chat and chopsticks, as we watched them make two different styles of dumplings – prawn and ginger and pork and prawn, with twin dipping sauces, and spiced fish on a Judge Bao seaweed bao.

If, like me, you are not the biggest fan of all foods of the sea – I don't eat shellfish or crayfish – don't despair. While the class menus on the website are predominantly seafood, they will adapt recipes for classes in advance. If you're vegan, gluten free or lactose intolerant … just let them know and they will accommodate you.


Demonstration completed and wine consumed, we headed next door to don our aprons. Workstations were set up in fours, so Rosemary and I made friends with the opposite pair and split the minced fillings so we all got a chance to try our hand at dumplings. There were comedic moments, the folds in some dumplings look rather de-pleated and our money-bag style dumplings were like beach balls on a picnic blanket. But into the bamboo steamer they went.

Hooton and Johnston were constantly on hand to answer questions, help with timings and give one-on-one tuition.

Hayley McLarin with a batch of dumplings at seafood cooking class.
Hayley McLarin with a batch of dumplings at seafood cooking class.

It was a busy session as we pickled red onions, made garlic mayonnaise, prepared dipping sauces, tossed fried Chinese broccoli, pan-fried fish – and remembered to buy another glass of wine to accompany our restaurant meal.

Before we knew it, the class was over and all that was left to do was pack up the leftovers – including more than a dozen dumplings ready to be steamed - and crack our fortune cookies.

With so many different styles of class on offer, I suspect this yum cha lesson may just be the entrée to a multi-course degustation. Next stop? Will it be the Best of British class, Thai Spice, American street food or NZ bach barbecue class? I can feel a world tour coming on.

The Auckland Seafood School - Asian yum cha
Class duration: 2pm-5pm
Class type: Hands-on
Class cost: $80pp
Skill level: 3.5/5
To book: aucklandseafoodschool.co.nz