I love cooking so I leapt at the opportunity to spend a day participating in a dinner party course under the tutelage and guidance of Chef Steve Lyons at the newly opened Colliers Cookery School — on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border — a mere 30 minutes from Ludlow.
I consider myself a good-enough cook. I get flavours, I own cookbooks and read them; I cut out recipes and have done for years. So I have more than a passing interest. Still, I know enough to rate myself as just a jobbing cook, which means for the most part, like everyone else short on time, it’s quick and easy dinners most nights of the week.
Meals are prepared with ruthless efficiency: slow cooker (if I am organised enough) or it’s one of my ‘10 ways to enhance pre-packaged meals’. However, when given time and space, I don an apron and make like Julia Child. I create a menu, I go shopping for those special ingredients now cluttering my cupboard (like that Za’atar seasoning used once back in 2014, thanks Ottolenghi). I wish they sold seasonings in pinches.
My grandmother had eight children and it felt like she cooked for an army and since I learned at her knee, no matter the size of a dinner party, I cook for troops. That’s why I thoroughly appreciated the cooking course. It was like having my very own pocket chef genie. Chef Steve’s proportions were more than enough to properly serve a party of four to six. The menu was a rousing but easy three-course dinner that can be tackled by your average home cook. Even if you are such and you are contemplating the cost, consider it an investment that delivers value for money.
Imagine the delight of having a Chef at your elbow in your very own kitchen while preparing dinner because that is what it felt like during the course. Our food was sourced locally, seasonal and organic. A surprise for me was the use of rapeseed oil for everything instead of olive oil. But Steve says it has a good flavour and importantly, it’s made in Britain (in Shropshire we have local company, Bennet and Dunn). I’ve already altered the use of oils in my kitchen pushing the olive oil towards the back and bringing the rapeseed oil to the front.
We were a small group and while Steve demonstrated each dish, we peppered (groan) him with questions! But he was quick with answers, dished a lot of food-related humour and showed the kind of knowledge befitting a Raymond Blanc alum.
Steve, who worked at 2* Michelin Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham and is a former Senior Tutor at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School, returned to Worcestershire with his family and started his own private and corporate catering company, “All About the Food”. He certainly made everything look easy, achievable and stress free. The attendees on the day ranged from experienced cooks to less experienced (me). it was a truly convivial atmosphere. Although, my cooking partner was appalled, simply appalled at my knife skills (or lack thereof) and seemed surprised that I still had all my fingers attached!
Suffice to say, I did learn how to correctly handle a knife — best to point it away from you. I did turn it over to my partner because it’s best to know your limitations and instead took to battering the pork for our main dish: filet of pork stuffed with apple and black pudding accompanied with cider and mascarpone sauce and onion puree. Our starter was a warm salad of leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, winter leaves with mustard vinaigrette and dessert was a lemon and rhubarb tart that I swear was one of those oxymorons both light and filling.
Things to make and master
Chef Steve showed some of the ruthless efficiency I love, with ingredients displayed militarily on the countertop. Having everything at hand made cooking a real pleasure. No rooting around for that ingredient you just knew you had somewhere. Fresh herbs were at the ready in a small glass of water. There were plenty of other tips such as what could be prepared in advance, how to store and freeze food and a neat little trick for rolling pastry. The efficacy of wooden chopping boards over plastic ones.
We began the day by preparing the dessert first making the sweet pastry and plopping it in the fridge while preparing the starter and main. Steve told us things to avoid, things to do and even the science behind it. For example, kneading dough will develop the gluten present in the flour which causes the dough to become elastic. I now do solemnly swear not to buy another pre-packaged pastry when it is so easy to make.
It was like a chemistry lesson as we watched rhubarb macerate and produce its own juice in a short time. Jerusalem artichokes is one of those vegetables that looks alien to me so isn’t added to the shopping cart. But I changed my mind in short order as a good steaming delivered a beautifully tender mellow taste that belied its exterior. And I’ve now discovered they can be found at our very own Farmers store in Ludlow (along with many other herbs and vegetables I’m not so familiar with).
I loved watching Chef Steve demonstrate the right way to prepare a dish and then going off myself to get as-near-as results. The best thing about a good cookery course is getting that hands-on experience. It also helps that Colliery Cookery is in such a magical setting perched high up as it is with far-reaching views across three counties with the Malvern Hills, Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains beckoning in the distance.
The cookery school is light, airy and spacious so we had lots of room to manoeuvre. It is well equipped with modern appliances and of course, sharp knives! I enjoyed the camaraderie of cooking together and getting to know the participants. In a cosy room, warmed by a log burner, we ate our lunch at a table beautifully laid out and toasted our rather delicious efforts. By the end of the day, it felt rather like I had attended a very enjoyable, extended dinner party. I can imagine doing it all again. It would work so well as a treat to someone special. After all it may very well become a gift that keeps on giving.
For more information and cooking class schedule contact Harriet Wakeford at Colliers Cookery.