Elizabeth Binning is converted to lentils in a French cooking lesson on the Sunshine Coast.

When most people think about the Sunshine Coast images of sun, surf, golden sands and the need for sunblock probably spring to mind. I'd take a bet that cutting up a raw chook doesn't come into the equation at all — but it probably should. That was the position I found myself in after checking in at Spicers Tamarind — a luxury retreat in the Hinterlands, about 45 minutes from the coast.

I was one of about 10 people who were in Spicers' popular French cooking class and our chef, Philipp Kerkow, was in need of volunteers to help with the preparation for petite blanquette de poulet a l'estragon. The dish sounded flash and I knew from the get-go that I'd never be able to pronounce it properly but I was keen to master it and impress guests in the near future.

Apparently the key is in the preparation so that's where we started — prepping two chooks. Philipp started by calling for volunteers, suggesting it might be one for the men in the class. One older man jumped forward, clearly a pro with a knife.

A second slowly shuffled forward and needed a few goes at cutting through the bone. But, when it came time for someone to help with the second chook there were no volunteers. It was at that stage everyone looked at the ground, ceiling and each other — everywhere other than Phillipp — I figured I'd give it a go. It was only a bird, after all. With a bit of guidance I worked my way through the chicken, cutting the bird into eight sections — a highlight coming when I looked up at my fellow chefs-in-training and saw the looks on many of their faces — anyone would think I was murdering the thing. It was only a bird and a dead one at that.


Philipp went on to take us through the different steps and, with the chicken eventually in the oven, we moved on to the pork rillette and then the salad of lentilles du puy. Another flash sounding name for what was basically a lentil salad. I admit a lentil salad is not something I'd make at home, or choose to eat when out. It never looks that appealing. At cooking class it was time for an open mind and I took the little bowl of French green lentilles du puy and gave them the time they deserved. I cut the carrot and fennel, diced the onion (I now know the correct way to easily dice one with little fuss) and put it all in a pot with the lentils, bay leaf and thyme and set about making a vinaigrette. It was then put aside to cool while we worked on the dessert, tart de Parisienne.

By the time lunch was served I was a fan. I was converted.

Lentils are my new friend and it's a dish I've since replicated for barbecues with friends. It didn't look as appealing as the one at cooking school — I blame the type of lentils available at Pak N Save — but it tasted just as good. It also went bloody well with my chook, or petite blanquette de poulet l'estragon, as the French like to call it.

Getting there: Air NZ flies daily from Auckland to Brisbane.

Details: See spicersretreats.com..

Further information: See visitsunshinecoast.com.