The county's cookery schools
PUBLISHED: 14:05 09 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:50 20 February 2013
Martin Griffiths visits some of the county's cookery schools and reports back with a series of high marks
The sights, sounds and smells of the kitchen form an integral part of many of our childhood memories. The kitchen at the farm where I grew up was the domain of my mother and sisters. They all seemed to have the knack of cooking great food from simple ingredients. Fruit pies, of considerable flavour, were heartily devoured and warm cakes straight from the oven would disappear as if by magic.
Learning about food like this was an organic process and it took me years to catch on that if I liked the food, I needed to learn to cook the meals. We can keep on learning, whatever our level of expertise and enthusiasm, and an effective way is to take a course at one of Worcestershires excellent cookery schools.
Eckington Manor Cookery School
Just south of Pershore, on the edge of the pretty village of Eckington, is the smart and professionally-run Eckington Manor Cookery School. Established by Judy Gardener and her family in 2004, shortly after buying the farm, the school is housed in a splendid converted Dutch barn, which gives the students well-equipped, individual workstations and an extensive range of courses and experienced tutors to choose from.
Facilities here include 15 very smart bedrooms used when residential courses are running and the use of the superb, restored manor house. Guests can also see the 300-acre farm in action. There are sheep and a herd of Highland cattle, (you can purchase the excellent meat from the small shop on site) and walk across the fields to the river and enjoy views of the wildlife in the wet meadows. The farm is part of the higher-level stewardship scheme and the recent work has seen increased numbers of curlews, lapwings and red shank.
When I visited recently there was an intermediate level bread-making class in process being taught by vastly experienced baker Cyril Scorse, (seen below). Cyril was not only demonstrating from the front of the classroom but also gently offering advice, encouragement and guidance as he moved around to talk to the students individually: Dont worry if it went a bit wrong, a wise man learns from everyones mistakes, its only a fool who doesnt learn from his own. The emphasis is on encouraging students to think about the origins of food, the principles of good cooking and honouring seasonality. It is all done in a relaxed and informal manner and the setting and facilities are of a very high standard.
Contact: 01386 751600; www.eckingtonmanor.co.uk
Just north of Evesham, in Salford Priors, in another fine farmhouse setting is the Orchards Cookery School, with its variety of cooking classes. One of the most popular is the two week residential course that offers mainly post A-level, gap year students an intensive experience that will enable them to cook and gain all the skills required for running chalets during the European ski season. There are three smart kitchens here and the students work in groups of eight under the supervision of an experienced chef and assistant. They are also taught how to manage budgets and to produce quality meals on time and in the correct order. As the students sit down and eat together in their groups there is a healthy degree of co-operation in evidence and students clearly work hard while enjoying themselves. There is a relaxed family atmosphere, with residential accommodation in comfortable, converted barns. Students have use of the lawns and volley ball court if they have any energy remaining.
The school was established by sisters Isabel Burt and Lucy Richardson, with Isabels husband Nick now part of the team. Recently voted by Waitrose Food Illustrated as one of the top 25 cookery schools in Europe, the food has a British bias with a large hint of classic French cuisine. My recent lunch included quail eggs topped with caviar, chicken breasts stuffed with prunes and feta, mango sorbet and conversation ranging from food sourcing to the merits of the international baccalaureate and the importance of the Mona Lisa. The students reflect the international dimension as one had travelled up from Australia on a friends recommendation while the others come all over the country. My report would say this is a lovely course to attend and that the ski slopes should be well served this winter!
Contact: 01789 490259; www.orchardcookery.co.uk
Our Lizzie Cookery
Of course some cookery courses are on a smaller, individual scale and one of the most charming is Our Lizzie, run by Lizzie Hughes (pictured below right) from her converted home kitchen in Malvern. With a background in home economics, she usually offers one-day courses that specialise in vegetarian cooking, allergy-free cooking and courses mainly aimed at students, which teach them how to cook on a budget. Lizzie makes good use of having worked in a multi-cultural background by offering courses in Mexican and Thai cuisine and especially promotes vegetarian cooking as it is full of flavour, vibrant colours and eating seasonal vegetables is a sensible budget option. Class numbers are kept down, which keeps her approach friendly, intimate and relaxed.
Contact: 01684 892688; www.ourlizzy.com
The Spice Trade
Other independent courses make the most of our mixed cultural heritage and these include classes and demonstrations run by cook and author Anita Sharma-James (above) from Bromsgrove who draws on Indias rich culinary heritage to show how authentic Indian food can be made at home, including an introduction to spices and blending them.
Contact: 07764 686119; firstname.lastname@example.org