Learn new skills at these Devon cookery classes
PUBLISHED: 15:41 26 August 2015 | UPDATED: 15:41 26 August 2015
© Tim Pestridge Photography 2009
If you want to learn new skills, or improve old ones, there are lots of experts in the Westcountry who can help. SU CARROLL goes back to school for some cookery lesson
Cooking can be a solitary experience. Preparing family meals, lunches and dinner parties is often an experience undertaken alone which is why sharing knowledge can be such an enjoyable experience, whether you’re a novice or an experienced home cook.
Here are some of the great cookery courses available on your doorstep.
Ashburton Cookery School
Let’s start at the top with the biggest establishment in the region and one which is the winner of several national awards. It was voted the best in the country in the Food and Travel magazine awards for the past two years. Stella West Harling set it up in 1992 in the kitchen of her home in Ashburton for organic and vegetarian cookery classes.
It proved really popular and in 2004 Exeter College lecturer Darrin Hosegrove joined as chef director and two more kitchens were added. Again, success demanded expansion and in 2009 the school moved to purpose-built premises in Old Exeter Road. Darrin says the vision was always to move to a proper HQ and develop the professional side of the business. “We do a lot of chef training and it’s now 70% of our business, but the recreational courses are still a massive part of what we do. We do everything from half-day courses at the weekend to the whole weekend. Our dinner party courses are very popular and the Indian courses,” he says. “Patisserie and baking are both big now. Students coming in today are more savvy about food. They usually have a fair amount of knowledge from the media, TV and what they find in the supermarkets.”
There’s a wide range of course online (ashburtoncookeryschool.co.uk) half day courses are £75, day courses £165 and weekends £315. Ashburton Cookery School also run professional courses with internationally recognised qualifications.
Manna from Devon
From the shiny, high tech world of Ashburton Cookery School to the lovely, homely atmosphere at the home of David and Holly Jones in Kingswear. Their lifelong love of food and their travels around the world have created a collection of courses to tickle your tastebuds – food from Spain, the Mediterranean, India and Asia. I spent the day on one of Holly’s Thai cookery courses and came away enthused and with more confidence. “People like cooking but they’re not overly confident in it and want to learn,” says Holly. “They will have different abilities and experiences but you can always learn something because every course will have a different combination of people. “We went to Thailand, Vietnam and India to find out about their food because I wouldn’t have felt confident teaching it. We went to markets and did courses and learned a lot that way. It’s really nice to pass it on to people. “I still really love cooking and I really love food. It makes it easy to impart that enthusiasm.”
One of the things that she and her husband David get hot under the collar about is wood-fired cookery. They’ve even written a book on the subject. They teach you how to make a pizza in a wood-fired oven (and run children’s pizza parties) but you can also find out how to slow cook, bake bread or grill like a gaucho!
Classes are small (typically 6-8 people) and expect to pay £95 for a half-day, £149 for a full day or £75 for family classes. Choose from international cuisine, breadmaking and woodfired cooking amongst others. Full details online at mannafromdevon.com.
Woolsgrove Cookery School
Gretchen Oldland started giving classes in the kitchen of her rural Devon home 13 years ago almost by accident. “Someone came to dinner whom I had never met before and they really enjoyed what we had. She loved the way I had put things together but it was just seasonal food and things I had,” says Gretchen. “She rang the next day and asked if she could come for the day with some girlfriends if they paid me and I could show them what I did. I loved food and I loved cooking so putting things together wasn’t hard for me. So I did that and then they asked me to do it again.” Gretchen, a lawyer, decided to put the courses on a more professional footing so she trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The courses began in the kitchen of her lovely 17th century home, but she soon tired of “getting up at 3am to clear out the dogs and the kids’ stuff.” The answer lay in the derelict barn in garden, revealed on the deeds as The Old Bakehouse. “It’s a glorious room and the brilliant thing is that I can just shut the door. People love it because it’s just 25 minutes outside Exeter and they can see lamb and beef in the field in front of my house. “Most of my stuff is demonstration and I’ll make about 12 things and they eat all of it. It’s like a spa day for foodies.”
I love the names of Gretchen’s courses – things like self-catering sanity (get-ahead know-how to avoid the drudgery), summer holidays (catering for the masses without losing your rag) and winter fuel allowance – soups, casseroles, braises and puddings. The day courses are £70-100. Visit woolsgrove.co.uk.
The name River Cottage is synonymous with a return to a more traditional way of life. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s television programmes about living sustainably started an empire which includes more TV programmes, books, River Cottage Canteen restaurants, events and a chef’s school. He has campaigned to encourage us to eat fish more responsibly and championed fresh produce and the use of cheaper and more unusual cuts of meat while at the same time calling for an improvement in animal welfare.
Some of the courses at River Cottage HQ near Axminster have an almost evangelistic air – you can learn about being a smallholder, forage for wild food, build an outdoor oven and bake or find out about beekeeping. There are classic courses – bread, fish, pasta, meat – as well as preserves and cheese making.
Take your pick from a wide range of courses at River Cottage with prices starting at £156. On the one-day River Cottage Cookery Course (£192) you will create a seasonal starter, main course and pudding and eat them too. You’ll make and bake your own loaf of bread, craft perfect desserts, get to grips with fish and learn the principles of nose-to-tail eating. Full details and book online at rivercottage.net.
You can trace food from field to fork at Occombe Farm, part of Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, established to connect people with where their food comes from. Education and policy manager Alex Scholefield says it’s an important part of the jigsaw. People can taste food in the café and then see how it’s grown. “It’s a beautiful site and there’s free admission,” she says. “It’s been running for five years and the buildings are made from sustainable materials. We have a veg garden, community and wartime gardens and keep alpacas, ducks, lamb and chickens. “People get an idea of where food comes from and learn about food miles and the impact on the planet.” They run regular monthly adult cookery courses and one-off classes including Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indian.
Courses include breadmaking for beginners, cider making, Queen Bee cake making and classes for adults and children. Places start at £30 for children and are mostly £75 for adults, including lunch. Visit countryside-trust.org.uk/occombe.
Rosehill Cookery School
German chef Willi Rehbock gives cookery classes at the luxury B&B he and his wife Sharon run in their Grade II listed home in Budleigh Salterton. Willi, who trained and worked in France, Egypt and London, runs the courses for four to six people in the autumn and winter. He demonstrates the food, there’s lunch and goodies to take home. Fish and seafood are popular, as well as breadmaking (particularly with the men, apparently). “People say they are not very good at something, but it’s really because they don’t have the skills,” says Willi. “I give them all the basic instruction, especially with the knives, and then they can prep veg and cook. We might do something like a polenta and orange cake which is a very easy one to do and gluten free.” One course Willi doesn’t run is food from his homeland. “I did do a German one is the past, but you can’t do very much with it. It’s basically bratwurst, schnitzel and dumplings!”
Willi’s classes include fish and seafood, breadmaking, classic Italian, Mediterranean and Asian. The day runs from 10am to 4pm, includes lunch and costs £75. rosehillroomsandcookery.co.uk.
Le Frog Catering
From Germany to France where Mikael Perret followed in his family’s footsteps – his grandmother was a head chef and his grandfather was a baker. He worked at well-known establishments including the Michelin starred Le Goyen, Le Fouquet in Paris and Relais Bernard L‘Oiseau. He moved to Devon in 2005 and set up Le Frog Catering and is now using his skills to offer masterclasses in Tiverton, Exeter and Wellington. “What we offer is something a bit unusual,” says Mikael. “We don’t work in a classroom environment and they’re quite informal. The entry price is £25 for two or three hours, so they’re quite affordable. The most popular is the chocolate one and people love the patisserie. And everyone wants to make cupcakes! “It comes back to having good quality and good ingredients and people want to improve their skills. People see things on TV and want to be able to do them.”
Choose from subjects such as French patisserie, chocolate masterclasses, cupcake workshops, French experience and taste of the Westcountry. Prices start at £25 and you can book online at lefrogcatering.co.uk.
Streamcombe Cookery School
The cookery school is in a beautiful stone building at the luxury B&B run by Karen and Ian Jarmarkier at Dulverton, on the borders of Exmoor National Park, Somerset and Devon. Ian is a keen advocate of seasonal cookery, sustainability and using local produce – and there’s plenty to choose from in this glorious part of the Westcountry.
“All the stuff we do is teaching people how to cook, rather than how to follow a recipe,” says Ian. “I see game as an interesting ingredient. It adds a certain something to a meal; it’s slightly more special. People want to learn to cook it. It tastes good and it’s quite lean.” The B&B is busy with guests during the summer when Ian is also often catering for weddings. So they are generally held in the autumn - perfect for game and the rich flavours of the season – and you may even get the chance for a quick bit of foraging. Each course will be different, but on the game course you will typically prepare partridge, pigeon, pheasant, venison and rabbit and incorporate them into dishes such as roasts, braises, risottos, salads and pasta sauces. There’s a maximum of six people on each course.
The day-long courses include fish, meat, game, baking and breadmaking. They will provide you with ideas to help you cook more seasonally, give you a broader repertoire of dishes and a folder of notes and recipes. The cost is £125, including lunch. Participants get a 20% discount for rooms at the B&B. See website for full details – streamcombecookery.co.uk.
If you enjoy game, discover the dark arts of charcuterie from Topsham-based Good Game, who regularly hold courses at different Devon venues. One of these is Andy Bragg’s organic West Town Farm three miles from Exeter. They provide the pork and Good Game provide the know-how for a day of pork perfection. You will learn how to make your own bacon and chorizo, to understand what goes into curing. The introduction course is hands on and will take you through important techniques and show you the best cuts and meat to use. You will take home something you’ve made along with notes and recipes. Good Game also take part in a Hog and Grog day with Graze and Flavour which takes place at Pebblebed Vineyards near Topsham. You will learn butchery skills and smoke meat in a fun-packed day. Regular events are also held at Darts Farm where a Charcuterie and Butchery Day will show you how to make dry-cured bacon, chorizo and salami and traditional air-dried ham.
Basic butchery and charcuterie courses are £115 at West Town Farm (westtownfarm.co.uk) and at Darts Farm (dartsfarm.co.uk). The Hog and Grog Day is £140 (grazeandflavour.com). Check online for the latest dates. For more information visit good-game.co.uk.
The Holt, Honiton
Angus McCaig knows all about good flavours. The head chef at The Holt in Honiton is one of the McCaig family who run Otter Brewery. His fascination with smoking and curing food began at an early age, he says. “The first job I ever had was at the Drewe Arms in Broadhembury where the first task I was given was to cure the salmon for gravadlax and we got through an awful lot of it. It was the only cooking job I was allowed to do for the first two years. “You could see the change in the fish. It was a very practical illustration and I started to understand the process, which was tied in with the family business which was brewing. When we opened The Holt ten years ago we got a smoker. So I have been curing for 25 years and smoking for the last ten. “We run small courses and cover brining, dry curing, hot smoking and what woods to use. You have to have a fairly analytical approach but smoking is very easy. It’s just the science of combusting and the use of aromatics. For curing you’ve got to have a feel for food and patience. And you don’t need expensive equipment. Jamie Oliver just uses a biscuit tin.” There are few foods that don’t benefit from smoking, says Angus. “We smoke salt and butter, which is great added to sauces, vanilla ice cream, dried fruits and veg. We smoke raisins and put them into some rum and smoke hay and put it into vodka.”
The two-hour evening classes at The Holt cover smoking and curing food and cost £30. Angus also runs bread-making courses which are a hands-on day of making English, Italian and French breads. Visit theholt-honiton.com for details.
Katie Venner and her partner Gordon Woodcock run a small wood-fired bakery producing sourdough bread at their home in rural Somerset on the Devon border. Here they offer breadmaking and other courses (tracebridgesourdough.co.uk). Katie has recently branched out into making fermented food and drinks and she’s passing on her skills with classes. “Fermenting is so big in the States and we have been slow to adopt it here. I think people are scared of it. They think of fermented food as something that is rotten and going off,” says Katie. “When we preserve things we tend to do it with vinegar and sugar, which is killing everything. Fermentation is working with things that are alive. There are cultural prejudices to get over.” In making bread, Katie has always been interested in the live action of bacteria and yeast. “I started with sourdough and then I began reading more about fermented foods. Probably our great-grandparents would be interested in fermenting – they would have known about clabbered milk where fresh milk was left out to go sour, then it was eaten. We seem to have lost our taste for sour things. “There’s a huge health benefit to fermenting. In cabbage it massively increases the vitamin C and B12, which is difficult to get if you’re vegan. “
Day-long courses will introduce you to fermenting and you will make sauerkraut and kimchi, with cultures to take home to start you on your way. Raw materials are grown locally without pesticides and the cost, including a vegetarian lunch, is £65. Visit tracebridgefermenteria.co.uk.
Helen Scull and her husband run a beautiful Grade II listed B&B in Shaldon where Helen started her cookery courses using her Aga. The courses proved popular with people who found themselves with a range cooker in their new rural homes, although everything can be adapted for more conventional ovens. Helen was brought up in a home where self-sufficiency was almost total. They grew food and she loved making preserves like quince jams and medlar jelly. Her classes are more demonstration than hands-on, she says. “For the daytime courses, people come for breakfast and I’ll make one of the items they have. Then I’ll do stocks, soups and starters. We’ll make canapes and usually two desserts and some baking, all in a day. The short courses start with lunch and I’ll demonstrate a savoury item we’ll have for lunch. Then we’ll do baking – cakes and scones – and make jams and lemon curds. It’s very user-friendly.”
Half day cookery courses are £45, full days are £85. Helen also runs afternoon tea courses which cost £40 and Sunday lunch courses which cost £45. Visit ringmorehouse.co.uk for details. You can also turn a visit into a stay at Helen’s B&B.
There are chefs who hold classes in Devon but will also come to you. One of them is Master Chef of Great Britain, Peter Gorton. He ran the kitchens at The Horn of Plenty and his own restaurant, Gorton’s in Tavistock, before turning to education. This year he is setting up a hospitality academy for 19 to 24-year-olds in Plymouth.
“People see cooking a lot on TV and they want to try it,” says Peter. “They want to learn all the myths, about cooking meat or filleting fish. They might want to learn how to budget as a family. They get an exact amount a week and they want to eat healthily so I do a course on making food go further. I also do gluten free because a lot of people are finding that they are intolerant of certain things. “Vegetarian is a big thing because people are eating a lot more veg. And they are interested in local produce and seasonal food. “I love food and I love engaging with people.”
Peter is giving two cookery demonstrations at Boringdon Hall at Plympton, near Plymouth this autumn (boringdonhall.co.uk). Autumn cookery is on 18 September and Cooking for Christmas on 6 November. Both are £65 per person. For private classes and demonstrations, contact Peter via his website: petergortonmasterchef.co.uk.
The Devon Chef
Tim Harris has always been passionate about food, inspired by his travels and developing self-taught skills. With a background in training and how people learn, it was a short step to setting up his own cookery classes and passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm.“Last summer I had three ten-year-old boys here learning how to make pasta. We had great fun but it took me another three hours to clear up!” laughs Tim. “I had a retired carpenter I did a one-to-one class with. He had never ever used a kitchen knife but he had worked with wood and understood textures and he was a natural. “We use all our senses with food and I had one guy who didn’t have a sense of smell, so I had him touching and listening to the food. It’s about using your senses rather than what the recipe says.”
In a nutshell
This summer Tim is running the café at Yearlstone Vineyard. In the autumn he will resume private lessons and classes at Occombe Farm near Paignton. He also does private catering for people in holiday in North Devon. As a guide, cookery courses are £65 per person (minimum of two people) or £150 for up to three people in your own kitchen. He runs cookery courses for men using local produce at £120 for three sessions. Go to devonchef.co.uk.
The Artisan Bakery School
Ever wondered what Real Bread is? Ask Penny Williams and Dragan Matijevic. Their dough can take up to 30 hours to develop. Keen supporters of the Real Bread Campaign they were the first to sell artisan loaves in Oxford and taught microbakery business courses. But Penny, who grew up in Falmouth, and Dragan, from Split in Dalmatia, wanted to be closer to the sea and three years ago they moved to Old Home Cottage in Sparkwell, near Plymouth. Here they bake bread for local people and produce pizzas on a Friday night from their wood-fired oven. They also run breadmaking courses, and you can stay in their home too. “People come to our breadmaking courses because seeing is believing. People can see how it works,” says Penny. “We have a gratifying collection of thank you cards and the thing they say the most is that it was really inspiring. All of the people we have had to stay are people you can really engage with. There’s something about bread that attracts down-to-earth sort of people.”
Breadmaking day courses start at £110, including course book, lunch, refreshments and bread to take home. Residential weekend courses are £345. For full details go to theartisanbakeryschool.com.
Frenchman Gilles de France takes the “pain” out of “pain” with his very hands on bread courses at the Column Bakehouse in Devonport Guildhall, Plymouth. Gilles runs the bakery at the refurbished Guildhall in what used to be the mortuary when there was a police station in the building – the listed white tile walls and cooler environment are the perfect choice for a bakery.His enthusiasm for breadmaking is catching and there’s something for everyone from beginners to people wishing to develop their skills. The Column Bakehouse won Best Local Food Product in the 2014 Plymouth Food Awards. Breadmaking courses are now run throughout the year for adults and children 13 +.
Popular courses with head baker Gilles include Introduction to Breadmaking, Introduction to Sourdough and Italian Breads. Course sizes are kept small and refreshments are provided. For dates visit devonportguildhall.org. Cost: £75. You can also organise your own breadmaking courses for groups or have one to one tuition. Enquire via email at email@example.com.
Red Dog Bakery
Sally and Roger Birt’s Red Dog Bakery was named best bakery in the 2014 Devon Life food and drink awards. You can discover the secrets of their success at their cookery school, where classes are kept to a maximum of four people. They are responding to a public thirst for knowledge about real bread. “When we started four years ago, no-one knew what sourdough was,” says Sally. “Now there’s quite a world bread revolution. “We do things the continental way with stretching and folding and we teach one recipe which uses three different types of flours. There’s a lot of concern about health and that’s what Real Bread is all about. We only add three ingredients: Cornish sea salt, yeast and water.”
Courses take place at the Red Dog Bakery in Whitstone on the Devon and Cornwall border. Try bread for beginners, Italian Bread, super sourdough and French bread. Classes start at £85. Visit reddogbakeryschool.co.uk.
Teacher Joe Mann was shocked when he realised children didn’t know where cheese came from. And this from children living close to farms in Devon. The idea for Fun Kitchen was born to share Joe and wife Kitty’s enthusiasm for food and to keep children entertained during the school holidays. “I’m very lucky with the subject matter. I can inspire kids and get them motivated by dispelling the myths,” says Joe. “There’s a bit of alchemy there; a bit of magic. It’s so rewarding to see them take four or five ingredients and put them together to make something. It’s a real life skill. We all need to eat. That’s the very essence of it. I like them to have fun and relax. They don’t need to be measuring everything. We explore food.“Yesterday I had a five-year-old on a course, last month I had a 95-year-old who wanted to make a fishcake as they’d never made one before. So we had fun creating it from scratch. The NHS are sending families to us and we’re helping people to feed their families on a budget.” The business has gone from strength to strength and Joe is leaving teaching to concentrate on Fun Kitchen, although he will still be doing lots of work on the curriculum in schools. They will also be getting their own premises in Exeter. Joe and Kitty have won awards for Fun Kitchen, including recognition at the British Cookery School Awards last year.
Joe has a mobile kitchen and is a familiar face at festivals and food events. He also runs classes for adults… and hen parties! Children can be dropped off for the cookery classes in the summer holidays at 8.30am and picked up at 5.30pm. All food and equipment is provided. The cost is £59. Joe also does cooking classes at birthday parties, see the website (funkitchen.co.uk) for details.
Two Tarts Cookery School
Busy mum Jo Dunbavin has four children, and so juggles businesses, event management and helping to run a charity with cooking family meals and inspiring her children to cook interesting, healthy dishes. She started the cookery school to pass on her skills to children and young people in a fun and interesting way alongside the classes she runs for adults. “I have always cooked and I ran my own catering business. With four children it was always a bit of a passion about what I fed them. With two dyslexic boys I wanted no additives. I was also keen for them to learn to cook properly. “I find that children are always keen and want to have a go. I show them that you can make good, healthy, family food. As a general rule, they are much more likely to try things if they have seen how it’s prepared and had a go themselves.” Jo runs a Fun to Cook Club for children from the age of five and classes for older ones up to 14 or 15. She also teaches student survival cooking, teaching teenagers preparing to leave home how to save pounds in calories and money. Many blokes will learn to cook to impress the girls, she observes.
The Two Tarts Cookery School is at Jo’s home in Bratton Fleming. The Fun to Cook Club costs £18 for two-and-a-half hours; the day-long cookery camps for eight to 15-year-olds is £45 and children’s birthday party classes are £18 per child (including a birthday cake) which can be held in your own home. Visit twotartscookeryschool.co.uk.