Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Cookery Schools Rule!

So how many of us are avid viewers of cookery programmes?  Ratings are high, and it seems people can’t get enough of them – but in reality not many people are turning their hand to trying any of the dishes they watch being prepared!  I adore cookery programmes, so for me deciding to spend a day at a cookery school was a natural progression, and once I tried it – I was smitten!

Now I hardly know any of my friends who have been to a cookery school, it seems to be something people would like to do, but like cookery programmes, just never get round to doing it!  Well I really urge you to think again.  Cookery schools are really wonderful places for you to step up your game and learn some fantastic things that the TV just can’t teach you.  Not only that, but it gives you a platform of confidence to experiment in your own kitchen, and become a better cook.  There is a huge choice of schools in England, which vary in duration, skill level, and cost – so there is something to suite everyone.  I recently invited a friend of mine along with me and she loved it too, now she would love to go again someday.  Perhaps like I did the first time – you could drop a hint to a dear friend or a loved one about purchasing a gift voucher for you, but I can honestly say if you love food like I do – it will be a decision that you will be pleased you have made.  Forget Red Letter Day’s etc, get out to a cookery school!

I have been to several different schools over recent years (and they really do vary) – so here is a run down of my experiences and what you can expect:

Ashburton Cookery School – Ashburton, Devon
This was the first school I ever attended, so I have a fondness for it.  An extremely professional well oiled machine, for me Ashburton offers the best courses because everything has been well thought out to make you day truly wonderful, and the produce you cook with is of top quality and locally sourced.  Kitchens have all the best equipment too, and you leave with a high sense of achievement
Over 40 courses to choose from.
The dishes you prepare are of a high-end restaurant standard
The advanced courses are really that – a challenge to any budding chef! 
They have a shop too so you can purchase ingredients and equipment. 
The school is very modern with induction hobs and the layout of the cookery kitchen is practical and fun too!
Binder with all the recipes to take home too
Devon may be a little far for many, which will probably mean the cost of accommodation which will bump up the overall cost of attending the course.  Apart from that no other negatives to mention!

Waitrose Cookery School – London
A new kid on the block, which means they too have great up to date equipment, the teaching here is excellent and very enthuiastic, this cookery school is a good option for all.  They have a large cookery theatre in which you can also watch the chefs giving demo’s whilst you sit, listen in, and eat the fruits of you labour.
Great central location – 3 minute walk from tube station
Great atmosphere here – very conducive to learning
Shop too, for purchasing equipment
They give you a well laid out binder to go home with all the recipes
A big space but a small cookery school as it only has one big classroom, which can fit a lot of people!  If it was full then I’m not sure the experience would be so intimate and pleasurable!
The work benches are very close together, thus it can become a dangerous trip hazard when you pull open your oven to the people working behind you.  This was not thought out very well

Daylesford Organic Cookery School – Daylesford, Gloucestershire

One word – wow!  This is a very stylish ‘destination’ cookery school that oozes character and flair.  Although it also only has one large room, it is intimate and a great place to learn from head chef Vladimir Niza who is extremely knowledgeable and charming (watch out ladies!).  The dishes you cook are suitably impressive, and will want you going back for more.  The school is located on the farm; so all the produce you cook couldn’t be any fresher.  I adored my day here, felt charmed and totally chilled.
Great layout, very well thought out, and the food you cook is exceptional as it is organic and straight from the land!  Truly their biggest USP
There is a restaurant, various shops to browse around to buy the most amazing foods, clothes, garden accessories, so you get more than just a day out cooking – this in mind take extra bags and a credit card as you wont be able to resist their incredible produce!
Hmm, only to say like Ashburton - perhaps just it’s location for some may prove arduous, but still worth the drive!

Tante Marie – Woking
This is oldest independent of the cookery schools, and it knows its stuff!  You walk in here and instantly feel why they are so well established. Located In a big old converted house, it has several well-equipped cookery classrooms, as well as a demo theatre area.  What more could you ask for.  The professional long-term courses are offered here, and it would be my choice for one of these longer courses.  Part owned by Gordon Ramsay holdings too.
Very professional, the staff really care for you here
The teaching too is of an excellent standard
They have well known chef demo days (this is what I attended) where although you mainly watch, the cost is greatly less than a whole day’s hands on cookery, making it an affordable option, plus you get lunch provided, and a great opportunity to chat to the guest chef and taste his dishes, ask tons of question.
It’s not as modern looking as some of the other schools, but look beyond that, it still has all the equipment including induction and a Range oven to learn on
Most of the schools have a dedicated washing up team, so that you can get on with the cooking, but this is not offered here, so some may find that off putting if you have had the luxury of it all being done for you.

Leith’s – London
Probably Tante Marie’s biggest competitor as they too offer very professional courses. I came to Leith’s to do a day’s butchery course with an external tutor from the Ginger Pig, so I can’t hugely comment on the school as I feel I never really got to the heart of it.  The school felt a little impersonal to me, and my greeting from reception was sadly far from helpful/sincere.  However the course I attended was insightful thanks to the tutors, and I came home with a huge cooler bag of lamb dishes that I had prepped to cook myself– nice touch!
Extensive choice of courses too
They in addition have a wine school
A little impersonal, felt like I was a small cog in a big wheel
Just a little something missing, that I could not quite put my finger on!

The Bertinet Kitchen & Cookery School - Bath
 This is the latest cookery school in which I have just attended.  I was enticed in by a days cookery with 3 Michelin starred Clare Smyth from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.  Having seen her on TV many times, I admire her greatly!  This cookery school is in the heart of Bath and makes a great day out too (if you can fit in some shopping round town afterwards).  Richard Bertinet was there himself, and a charming man to chat to.

Guest chef days are a plenty here, drawing big names such as Angela Harnet, Clare Smyth
Bakery and shop with cookery equipment is attached to the school too, but be quick as the bakery closes around 2pm
(Sadly for me there were too many things not quite right here)
My class was sold as ‘Advanced’, but it was clear that the level of other attendees and the dishes we cooked were not advanced in my experience.
This course was more prepping of vegetables and watching than a ‘hands on’ cookery day, and for that I think the course was overpriced
There are 2 classrooms, and the largest of the two (the one I was in), you work in groups of 4 (most other schools I have worked in pairs), which limits the amount of cooking you actually get to do when there is so many of you.
No correspondence sent out prior to the course, so the emphasis is on you to make sure you don’t forget to attend!

 I hope you found this post informative and insightful, and if you have attended any cookery schools, I would love to hear of your experiences, and what you thought of them!


To heighten your cooking to more than just the basic everyday meals, I have two books to giveaway from this summers Taste of London.  These books have recipes from the countries top chefs, and will put your skills to the test, helping you to create restaurant style dishes (like you would at a cookery school).  Perhaps they will whet you appetite for cookery schools!   
 All you have to do is:

1) Follow this blog and
2) Answer this simple question:

Q) Name the 3 Michelin starred chef I cooked with at the Richard Bertinet cookery school

Please leave your answers in the comments box below.  Winner will be notified by e-mail. Competition closes midnight 21st October 2012.

**Congratulations PompeySuz & Laura Pugh - you are the book giveaway winners.**


  1. Interesting post. I have been wanting to attend a cookery school for a while. I like the look of the Devon one but would is a little far. If only there was a good one in Pompey!

    The Answer: Clare Smyth from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

    1. Look out for Restaurant 27 as Kevin has held evening classes in the past, but the best one for you from here would be Tante Marie or Waitrose.

    2. Oh thanks I'll look out for that. I'm thinking about giving the Waitrose one a go so will head to their website.

    3. Hi PompeySuz, Congratulations - please get in touch to claim your book!

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