Oops, it really has been a long time since I updated this site. This has been an incredibly busy year, but I promise to upload a few more of my favourite articles from the last few months shortly. Starting with this feature I wrote for Square Meal…
Where better to brush up your culinary skills than in a top-flight restaurant? More and more chefs are offering their own cookery classes as Londoners hunger to sharpen their kitchen know-how. Laura Foster (pictured, right, with chef Theo Randall) dons her apron to learn from the professionals.
As the UK’s appreciation for fine food increases, so too has our appetite for learning new skills in the kitchen. It’s no longer enough to watch Hugh wrestle with rhubarb on the telly; we want to be out there, learning first-hand from the professionals. And it seems as if the restaurants are starting to realise this, as increasing numbers launch their own classes.
French eatery Le Pont de la Tour is one such place to have picked up on the trend. ‘We started our cookery classes because lots of our customers ask us how to make certain things on our menu,’ says head chef Tom Cook. ‘There are quite a lot of people who don’t understand French cuisine, so I’m trying to teach the basics.’
Teaching basic skills is a common theme across the classes. ‘Some of the people who come to my sessions are clearly very talented and knowledgeable cooks,’ says the Intercontinental’s chef, Theo Randall. ‘I take great pleasure in showing them how to strip things back – the simplest of tricks can achieve great results.’
So don’t be intimidated. Whatever your skills, or your preferred cuisine, there’s a class out there for you. Here’s our pick of the bunch.
Our experience: Exploring a theme within Italian cookery
Theo Randall welcomes small groups into his kitchen on Saturday mornings to tackle a specific food group within his beloved Italian cuisine. Our day’s theme is seafood, and he pulls no punches despite the early start. He demonstrates the impressive jaw capacity of a John Dory before working through a busy programme of five dishes, which include a fabulous crab salad with radicchio. Full of hints and tips, he hands dishes out for tasting before moving on.
At the end of the morning, the group is taken through a wine-tasting session before being treated to a three-course lunch and a goody bag on the way out.
Best for: back-seat cooks who like to be shown a fabulous time
Sample dishes: sea bass in a lemon, basil and vermouth sauce, fish stew
Cost: £200 per person
To book: 020 7318 8747
Our experience: Getting acquainted with a star ingredient in sumptuous surroundings
Behind a door marked ‘Private’ in the depths of The Dorchester, executive chef Henry Brosi flicks a switch. To a chorus of ‘Ooohs’, the Krug Room chef’s table is revealed from behind its two-way glass, laden with breakfast for its group of amateur chefs.
This auspicious start is a sign of things to come – the well-planned class sees Brosi giving in-depth talks on black truffles, the focus of the day, and sharing his passion for seasonal ingredients and fine wines. The group then heads to the kitchen to prepare the dishes. Back in the Krug Room, the group is given a lesson on food fundamentals and wine pairing before lunch is served, where the good-natured Brosi fields any questions from the floor.
Best for: culinary technocrats thirsty for knowledge
Sample dishes: black-truffle tagliatelli
To book: 020 7629 8888
Our experience: Covering the basics of sushi in just two hours
Saturday afternoons see a host of characters meander into a restaurant basement in Soho to gather around tables and… play with rice. Tomokazu Matsuya, head chef of the smart SO Restaurant, instructs on how to create sushi rolls (surprisingly easy) and mould nigiri (surprisingly fiddly).
Speaking through an interpreter, he shows patience and humour, answering questions on knives and where to source suitable fish for sushi. Halfway through the session, everyone is presented with a platter of melt-in-the-mouth sushi before they box up their own attempts to take home.
More of a top-end demonstration, you won’t get into the kitchens to cook the rice yourself, unfortunately.
Best for: friends to bond over
Sample dishes: nigiri and sushi rolls, working with salmon and tuna
Cost: £75 per person
To book: 020 7292 0767
Our experience: Getting the lowdown on Paul’s bread-making secrets
Bread may only consist of four key ingredients – flour, yeast, water and salt – but it’s easy to get wrong when making your own. For those tearing their hair out, Richard Blades, head baker at Paul’s central London bakery, is on call to knead the mistakes out of your technique in this informative class. It’s messy stuff – your hands will be covered in dough for the full four hours – but it’s incredibly satisfying. Attendees are taken through kneading, proving, shaping and even sliding the bread into the huge oven. There’s a generous afternoon tea halfway through, and tons of bread to take home after, along with notes on the day.
Best for: budding bakers who have already had a go at making their own bread
Sample dishes: bread in various guises and shapes, including Paul’s pain aux six céréales and la flûte Paul
To book: 0845 612 0401
Our experience: Making sense of the spices and techniques in Indian cuisine
In the shiny stainless-steel space of Benares’ kitchen, the delightful Atul Kochhar enthusiastically demonstrates his Anglo-Indian fusion cuisine. He’s keen to demystify the spices used in Indian cooking, and conveys his passion as he talks about the dishes we are to try our hands at.
Attendees are split across four stations in the kitchen – including the tandoor oven – and each person rotates around the stations, helping to prepare the meal, with Kochhar and his chefs on hand to help. The day is rounded off by a three-course lunch in the restaurant area – or the chef’s table if the class is small enough – before everyone is sent home with a goody bag.
Best for: Indian enthusiasts intimidated by the myriad spices involved
Sample dishes: aloo tikki (pan-fried potato cakes), tandoori chicken
Cost: the advanced masterclass is £350
To book: 020 7629 8886
Our experience: Having lots of fun making sourdough pizza
Pizza is one of the most joyous of foodstuffs – fun to eat, and fun to make. The small Franco Manca chain has realised this, recently launching a series of two-hour classes to show fans of their famous sourdough pizza how to make their own. And it’s great for kids and adults alike. When he’s in town, company founder Giuseppe Mascoli takes the classes himself, handing attendees their own dough to work with. There are different toppings to choose from, meaning everyone has a chance to engage their own creative streak. When the pizzas are ready to cook, the restaurant’s wood-fired oven is brought down to a heat of 230-250oC – to emulate the heat of a domestic oven – giving everyone the practical experience needed to do the same thing at home.
Best for: teaching kids (big and small) to cook
Sample dishes: pizza!
Cost: £20 per person
To book: call Franco Manca Chiswick on 020 8747 4822
Le Pont de la Tour
Our experience: Exploring the basics of French cuisine in a part-demo, part-participation class
Eating pastries while admiring the view of Tower Bridge isn’t a bad way to start the day. This is breakfast the Pont de la Tour way, as 10 participants gather for a class with head chef Tom Cook. The group is ushered through the cellar and into the Salon Privé, a nondescript room set up with portable induction hobs on a bench.
Cook usually works through a starter, main and dessert in his 90-minute lesson, inviting participants to get involved chopping vegetables and handling produce where possible. A fun session making Crêpes Suzette sees everyone having a go. Discussion is enthusiastic, with Cook keen to pass on his extensive knowledge to the enthusiastic group. Lunch in the restaurant follows, usually consisting of the three courses made in the class.
Best for: fans of Gallic food who want to expand their repertoire
Sample dishes: cassoulet saucisse de Toulouse, tarte au citron
Cost: £65 per person
To book: 020 7403 8403; lepontdelatour.com
Heading out of town
Tie in a short break with some time in the kitchen
Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
The busy Raymond Blanc cookery school offers a bustling programme of classes to choose from, including days focused on preparing a seasonal dinner party and nutritional meals. Splash out and stay overnight.
Cost: from £350 for a themed one-day course up to £4,000 for a four-day residential course
To book: 01844 278881
Richard Hughes Cookery School, Norwich
Richard Hughes has put together an inventive calendar of themed lessons covering different cuisines. Those wanting a real taste of working in the kitchens of this thatched 16th-century building can book the ‘chef for a day’ option, which allows a student to cook an evening meal for up to five guests.
Cost: the average class cost is £125, chef for a day is £350 for a student and one guest
To book: go to or call 01603 712215
Cook School by Martin Wishart, Edinburgh
Down the road from Wishart’s Edinburgh restaurant, this dedicated cookery school has capacity for just eight people, ensuring attendees get lots of attention. Classes are run Wednesday to Saturday, with the man himself joining once or twice a month.
Cost: most sessions are £150, the masterclasses with Wishart are £335
To book: 0131 555 6655
Rick Stein’s Padstow Seafood School, Cornwall
Fish fanatic Rick Stein’s Padstow-based food empire boasts this airy, efficient school dedicated to the produce of the sea. Techniques such as filleting fish are tackled with ease in relaxed environments, with plenty of chefs available to lend a hand.
Cost: one-day courses are usually £195, two day non-residential courses £360
To book: 01841 532700
This feature was published in the summer 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle. Click here to view it on the Square Meal website