My week on the Intermediate Cookery Course at Ashburton Cookery School
Last week I spent about 35 hours on my feet cooking in a kitchen with 15 other aspiring chefs. I loved every single minute, even when touching a slimy dead Plaice.
Since I’ve been learning so much about cooking through writing this blog, I decided to give my skills an extra boost to the next level by signing up to a week long ‘Intermediate Cookery Week ’ at Ashburton Cookery School, South Devon. I also wanted a bit of a holiday away from London, and combining a week submerging myself into my favourite hobby of cooking in a beautiful area of the UK seemed like a natural choice. I was hoping that by choosing intermediate I had pitched my skills at the right level – I may be quite confident in the kitchen but I am a messy cook, clumsy and my onion chopping skills leave a lot to be desired.
As a gluten-free mostly Paleo cook I had some reservations about taking a course, that would fundamentally involve many recipes that I wouldn’t be recreating in future. Though, since a Paleo cooking course doesn’t exist anywhere (believe me I looked) I thought that learning all the skills from a conventional chef would be the next best thing. The most valuable skills I learnt, were about timing, preparation (lots of references to Blue-Peter style prep of ingredients), and that almost anything can be prepared way in advance of cooking, even the day before. These skills can surely can be adapted to what ever ingredients you are using, and I believe there is a way of adapting just about any recipe to meet your nutritional needs. I’ll be writing a post of all the top chefs tips I learnt soon.
Ashburton is a fantastic cookery school. Situated on the edge of the town, I had a lush 5 minute walk into school each day from my beautiful room in the provided accommodation. The school itself has a number of concurrent courses, so there are plenty of kitchens. I could hardly believe 16 of us would fit in 1 kitchen and it never felt cramped.
The cookery school only sources local ingredients. From fruit and veg, to meat, fish, eggs, butter and cream – practically everything is organic. When you’re eating lots of butter and cream it is a comfort to know it comes from an organic happy grass-fed cow! Nothing we used came out of a processed packet, and even the gluten/flour heavy dishes such as pasta, bread and pastry were cooked entirely from scratch. So, whilst I was going to spend some time learning about gluten-heavy dishes, most other aspects of the schools ethos meet with my Cucina Ceri blog ethos.
Over 5 days we created and ate 10 meals and 5 puddings – each one uniquely different. We spent the start of each day with a little theory – for example learning the different cuts from a cow, or a background to seasonal veg. Through creating these meals we also learnt about and made various stocks (meat, veg and fish) and different sauces (jus’, glazes, pestos and flavoured oils) so I have now gone away with a billion ideas up my sleeves.
Our two chefs over the course of the week Alan and Joe were amazing teachers and incredibly passionate about their ingredients, presentation of the dishes and helping us to understand why we were poaching eggs at 4pm to be eaten for lunch the next day (all about the prep!). They were also very patient with my never ending questions – could this be done gluten free and could I use this instead of this???
My favourite dish award (savoury) of the week goes to…
Why? – Because it was just delicious – end of! Mushrooms and lamb are favourite ingredients of mine, and having the confidence under chef’s supervision to cook to the right level of rarity was superb. I have never made a sauce like this before, and I was pretty proud of the presentation too. I also took plenty of notes about making the the Dauphinoise with other root veg which with a few tweaks should work. Did I mention that we trimmed the lamb down too? Proud.
My favourite pudding award of the week goes to…
Why? Because I got very excited when the coconut milk came out of the store-cupboard! I’m usually from the ‘it has to be chocolate to be pudding’ camp, but this was something else. The sorbet made from a sweet syrup mixed with Kaffir lime leaves, lime juice & zest and lemongrass infused coconut milk had so much flavour, felt light and refreshing yet sweet and filling at the same time. A real palate cleanser. I will be making this again (with less sugar), and without the biscuits (though it was fun making them)!
My favourite new gadget award of the week goes to…
Simply because, it was lots of fun! We used the blowtorch to brown off the top off a Praline, a Creme Brulee and Lemon Tart.
A few surprise favourite tasks…
Jointing a whole chicken into pieces – such a useful and money saving task – everyone should learn how to do this.
I was also pretty proud of my fish filleting efforts. It was really difficult to actually end up with any fish flesh left. Surprisingly fresh raw fish doesn’t smell. It is however quite slimy – which made me scream like a right girl… Got there in the end though!
Things I wasn’t fussed about about…
Pastry. I think because I knew I was’t going to be trying this at home, I was a bit slap dash. A real pity because as a result my quiche ended up leaking, got a bit stuck in the tin and had a soggy bottom. Mary Berry would not be impressed.
I also discovered that while pasta making and bread kneading were very therapeutic tasks my current levels of technique and desire to recreate them do not leave me destined for a career in either of those fields.
Favourite new ingredient award goes to…
Scallops – I will now cook them without fear of them turning into leather, and the shells they came in have made a wicked bathroom feature at home!
All in an an absolutely fantastic week full of excellent quality food, a ridiculous amount of learning, lovely friendly people, inspiring chefs and best of all no washing up (luxuriously it was all magically done for us!) Next year the advanced course? Stay tuned as I spend the next few months attempting to recreate these dishes as home…
Has anyone been to Ashburton, or another cookery school? What did you think?
Check out my follow up post about the week – Top 30 Chef Tips3