Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Raymond Blanc Cookery School
July'16. I spent one week in Oxfordshire at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons learning the art of french cuisine. The kitchen caters for one hundred covers per night in the Michelin Star awarded restaurant. There are a team of over fifty chefs that are watched over by a sculpture of Raymond that sits in the service walkway. To become a chef at Le Manoir you must spend six months in each section, starting with the most basic of preparation, boiling stocks, peeling oranges, gradually working your way up to work alongside the most experienced chefs in the patisserie or at the saute station.
It is the organisation, passion and dedication that makes this restaurant so successful; as well as the beautiful gardens and orchards that supplies the ingredients of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchens all year round. There is no room for error, timing is everything.
During my week at Le Manoir I was exposed to a huge variety of cooking. My notes are extensive. Salads, sauces and sides, fish and shellfish, meat and patisserie. I asked as many questions as I could think of and would get more than just the answers, the chefs would show me, advise me and give references. I explained that I worked at sea, and that I am often limited to what ingredients I can buy as well as being restricted by the size of my galley. This did not phase them… instead they saw it as a challenge, and helped to come up with ideas; such as, what I should always have in my freezer, how to keep goods fresh for longer, which cooking wines I should have on board, simple recipes, quick recipes, mediterranean cuisine…the list goes on.
It is was a valuable experience.
Swinton Park Cookery School
July'16. A four hour drive, to the North Yorkshire Dales. I finally found my cute little cottage at the foothills of the ridge that marked the boundary to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I had it all to myself. I woke the next morning and looked out my window; in the neighbouring brick paddock there was a family of spotted piglets trotting around. The owner of the cottage was a pig breeder.
I drove thirty minutes west, through Thirsk until I got to a small picturesque town called Marsham.
From there, I continued to wind my way along the country lanes that led to Swinton Park Estate. I turned right through the grand, old stone arch way and followed the drive to the large Yorkshire stone mansion. It stands in over 200 acres of land where deer a free to roam and breed. In the stable block of the mansion there is a Falconry and several lakes that spool their way through a forest.
After the meetings and greetings with the fellow course attenders, our group of four was escorted to the cookery school. I walked into a bright and airy rectangular room. The smell of fresh baked bread sparked all my senses. A large green Aga sat against the tiled wall to the back of the kitchen. Hanging from the ceiling were copper pans, sieves, wooden spoons and ladles. Jars of homemade chutney, jam and pickles were stacked up on the shelves surrounding the room.
‘Morn’in!’ A loud, strong North Yorkshire accent boomed out from across the room. The chef. He is a man with extensive knowledge and experience. His enthusiasm and personality made every second interesting. One morning, I was invited to arrive at the school early to go and collect fresh herbs and vegetables from the mansions walled garden. The chef and I walked passed the Falconry, along the side of a giant stone wall, to the end of the gravel pathway where there was a crooked oak door with a metal latch and lock. It felt like we were entering a secret garden. The hinges creaked as entered a wild herb, fruit and vegetable garden hidden within the giant stone walls. Courgettes, Raspberries, Strawberries, Basil, Dill, Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel, Sweet Sicily, Wild Garlic, Nettles, Tomatoes…magnificent colour and a wilderness of giant luscious green plants.
We returned to the kitchen with a wicker basket laden with a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables.
During my week at Swinton Park, I experienced some of the techniques used in French, Italian and Spanish cuisine.
If in Yorkshire, take your hiking boots and be prepared to get stuck behind a tractor.
Rick Stein Cookery School
October'15. Padstow, Cornwall. I was flown from Palma to Liverpool from where I drove five hours south. A long way from my home in Shropshire. After a windy drive in the dark, I finally found the little blue door to the cottage that sat on a slant along a cobbled street. I had no idea where I was. I had just landed my first long term job on a boat as a Chef.
I woke early the following morning to clear blue skies, sunshine, the cry of seagulls and the smell of salty sea air. After a light breakfast at the B&B I walked into Padstow, a very picturesque seaside town. I wondered along the seafront, the brightly coloured fishing boats sat calmly in the small marina which was surrounded by the town. The tide was high and the streets quiet.
There is a beautiful coastal walk that takes you around the peninsular - pack your trainers!
I arrived at Rick Steins Seafood Cookery School. A square building that overlooked the estuary. After morning tea with the rest of the students, we were handed our aprons.
The chef was an enthusiastic fisherman, who had an abundance of tricks up his sleeves. I reckon he could fillet a fish blind folded with one hand tied behind his back in a matter of seconds. A true salty sea dog. Crab, Lobster, Langoustines, Plaice, Sole, Mackerel, Bass, Tuna…you name it, we cooked it. Salads, curries, paella, BBQed, grilled, pan fried, stuffed, baked whole, filleted, marinated. There are so many fish dishes we learnt to create.
As a special treat, my mum came to visit. We spent our one evening at the Rick Stein restaurant. We enjoyed celebratory cocktails at the bar, a three course dinner and a fantastic behind the scenes tour around the kitchen. It was a lovely evening, the food was delicious.
For me the course opened up so many doors. It gave me billions of ideas that could be kept simple of taken to another level. I left the course in high spirits, looking forward to catching our own fish during the transatlantic crossing and being able to cook fresh fish in so many new ways!
Ashburton Cookery School
Ashburton is situated in the hills of Devon, west of Exeter. I stayed at a small B&B the other side of town which was only short walk to the Cookery School. I met an abundance of yachties, who had already spent many years at sea. It was fantastic to hear their many stories of cookery disasters and successes for guests and crew. They gave me loads of advise and wished me luck…definitely something I needed!!
I went to a variety of courses at the school, Thai, Mediterranean and Desserts. It was an intense week of learning and definitely enlightened me to the work I had ahead of me.