I’ve avoided cooking ever since I knew what it was. Having been brought up in a foodie house, it was my first and most deep-rooted rebellion. When people weren’t thinking about food, they were talking about food. When they weren’t talking about food, they were preparing food, then eating the food. Then, after a pause of about half an hour, the whole charade would start again. Now, aged 26, I’ve realised enough is enough. A woman can’t survive on beans on toast alone, heavenly though it is. Luckily, there are plenty cookery schools around to help kitchen novices like me, and here are the pick of the bunch…
Northcote Cookery School
I was always told that if you were to host a dinner party, you had to know how to make one thing very well. If you buy into this mantra, then the Northcote Cookery School’s Northcote at Home course (£195) is for you. A one-day course in the Northcote Hotel near Preston, Lancashire, the course teaches you to make a Michelin star-style three-course dinner party. The menu, created by Michelin-starred chef Nigel Hawarth, is delicious: home cured treacle salmon with pickled ginger and coriander salad, followed by lamb with a mushroom and spinach duxelle stuffing in puff pastry with scorched leeks. Realistically, you’d need more than a day to make this, and it would have to be a day that you weren’t working. As I tirelessly folded egg whites for the apple crumble souffle, I wondered if there would ever be anyone on earth that I loved enough to carry out this ritual again. If you have someone worthy, or perhaps even a few friends that you’d like to impress, then this course is for you.
Leiths School of Food and Wine
Leiths is widely-considered to be the best of the country’s cookery schools. Founded by culinary queen and Great British Bake-Off’s new recruit Prue Leith in 1975, Leith’s has built its reputation on being quintessentially British, successfully helping beginners build confidence and training up thousands of professional chefs. Alumni includes model-turned-chef Lorraine Pascale, TV chef Rachel Khoo and cookery writer Gizzi Erskine. According to reports, Kate Middleton also enrolled to improve her cooking skills. Even Yottam Ottolenghi praises its brilliance, saying that ‘everybody looks up to Leiths.’
In the deepest darkest Devon-Dorset border lies the River Cottage, a thriving organic smallholding that runs a plethora of cookery courses for budding chefs, eager to develop their skills with fresh ingredients, grown in a sustainable environment. In other words, this is guilt-free cooking that waves goodbye to any ingredients that threaten a state of ethical quandary. That’s not to repel the blood-thirsty: Pig in a Day or Cunning Cuts can brush up your butchery, Shoreline Foraging or Wild Food Cookery will let you get your hands dirty, and Gluten Free Cookery or Happy Digestion will appeal to the more neurotic eaters. There’s something for everyone, but what makes the River Cottage different (in the words of head chef Gelf Anderson) is the fact that ‘it’s not just about teaching people to create amazing dishes and meals, but rather encouraging people to consider the whole process from start to finish.’
Le Cordon Bleu
Le Cordon Bleu, in London, is the kind of cookery course that makes amateurs want to weep. The benefit of this, of course, is that experts are encouraged to take their skills above and beyond, with diploma courses (at beginner, intermediate and superior levels) in culinary management, patisserie, boulangerie, gastronomy, nutrition and management, to name a few. With prices at around £19,000, Le Cordon Bleu isn’t for the faint-hearted, or for those that quite fancy the idea of ‘throwing something together.’ Instead, Le Cordon Bleu is for those who – I’d say – want to chef, rather than to cook.
Jamie’s Cookery School
Like him or loathe him, Jamie Oliver’s quest to revolutionise our eating habits continues apace. In case endless cookery books, activism and lobbying weren’t enough, the Jamie Oliver Cookery School is the now latest branch of the Oliver empire, offering more than 30 different course types to keen cooks at Westfield London. Whether it’s it your technique that you want to improve (Sharpen your Knife Skills: The Essentials), or your knowledge of certain ingredients (All About Chocolate or Get Stuck Into Steak), Foreign food also features prominently with classes teaching how to cook Vietnamese street food, north Indian thali, Thai green curry, gyoza and more.
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Again, venturing out of London to the relative comfort of Great Milton, Oxfordshire, there is the Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The course is more of an ‘experience’, since it’s sold in accommodation packages at the hotel in which it is housed. Raymond Blanc has become something of a national treasure – not bad going for a Frenchman – but the courses are in fact taught by Mark Peregrine, one of Blanc’s protégée, who has been developing the courses for the past seven years. Not dissimilar from the Northcote, the courses are comparatively fancy – the Magic of Macarons or Sweet and Savoury Souffles. If filleting a fish sounds too complicated, you can meander through the beautiful gardens, or gatecrash the gardening course in the grounds.