As this year’s national cookery school awards are announced, and the festive season beckons, perhaps a gift of a cookery course
is on your wish list? Recently, I spent a weekend learning about French cookery with the gifted Peter Lien at the WI Cookery School near Oxford. The positive experience, and acquisition of new skills, prompted me to reflect on what makes a cookery school an award winner and one to recommend.
Entering an unfamiliar kitchen can be daunting for a tutor and a student. The kitchens I prefer have space to work solo and in groups. The kitchen does not have to be huge, but the design has to reflect effective use of space, for a mixture of activities and crucially for everyone to see and be seen.
For a hands-on course, a space designed for 12 plus a tutor is ideal, and should mean everyone gains from the teaching experience.
At Richard Bertinet’s Cookery School, there was originally one kitchen, then due to huge demand, a second kitchen were designed for teaching, learning and eating with maximum efficiency.
Depending on the course, good quality equipment contributes to the success of a course. Before Vale House Kitchen opened in 2013, the owners, Annie and Bod Griffiths asked me and the other tutors for lists of equipment.
For me, great preserves are made from some essential items; 6 litre lidded, stainless steel pans, jam funnels and new glass jars with twist top lids. All of these greet me every time I teach there. Sufficient items, easy to find and store, for everyone is also important.
A day at Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School left me in awe of the storage, range and quality of equipment available for a Chocolate Course.
Course content and Price
The information on the cookery school’s website should be more than just an enticing description. I like to know the aims and objectives of the course and testimonials are useful.
Are recipe packs supplied and depending on the course, do you get to eat or take food home?
Will feedback be welcomed and acknowledged if your experience is not what you expected?
Is the course priced to reflect the calibre of the tutor and the skills and experience gained from the course?
Possibly, the most vital ingredient for a successful course is an outstanding tutor. Questions to ask before booking a course, include their experience, teaching and management skills.
I have a particular interest in baking, so I would look for someone who is a published author or blogger, with reliable recipes and who specialises in teaching consistently to an exceptional standard.
In preserving, also look for someone who specialises, teaches and regularly makes the full range of preserves. Is there information about the tutor online, and not just a Facebook page? Do they have a website? Have they won any awards?
It is heartening to know despite his success, Richard Bertinet continues to teach and his guest chefs have phenomenal talents.
At Vale House, tutors who are some of the very best experts in their fields have been recruited. Book a course with a tutor who knows when to help, when to leave participants alone and is generous with their knowledge.
Peter Lien gave me ideas for tutoring and cooking. Courses run to timetables, work best with a tutor who is an efficient time manager but flexible enough to ensure all questions are answered. If there is more than one tutor are their skills complimentary?
At Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School a team of chefs blend effortlessly with Rosemary. Overall, look for a tutor who inspires you to go home and bake, preserve or cook with a passion.
There are many schools offering great courses, and I have highlighted a few from personal experience. Each year new schools appear, eager to attract clientele. The ones with excellent tutors, space, equipment and whose courses sell quickly, are the schools to notice and support.
The Bertinet Kitchen won the Best Specialist Cookery School and Peter Lien won Best Tutor in the 2013 British Cookery School Awards, so its is not surprising I was inspired!