Last week I spent a day at Exeter Cookery School honing my vegetarian cooking techniques. The whole day was a complete joy from start to finish.
Let me tell you a little bit about Jim and Lucy before I get on to the course. In 2000 Jim, Lucy and their daughter, Jenny, moved to France to set up a cookery school. Despite the usual bemusement from the locals that an Englishman might know more than them in the kitchen, the cookery school (CookinFrance) became a huge success.
Fifteen years later, Jim and Lucy are back in Exeter where they originally met and have created a real gem with Exeter Cookery School. They spent a year looking for the perfect spot and I think they have found it in a grade 2 listed 1830’s warehouse overlooking the Quay’s canal basin. Nestled amongst a number of cafes and restaurants, the cookery school is in a perfect position to what is fast becoming a real destination for foodies.
Jim’s cooking credentials are vast. He is a former Masterchef semi-finalist who started his cooking career cheffing in the kitchens of Exeter’s White Hart. He then went on to cook alongside Rick Stein in Padstow, Alistair Little in Notting Hill and Tony Tobin of Ready Steady Cook fame. So you can see, you are in very safe hands at Exeter Cookery School!
I, typically, was the first to arrive with the two other students (Barbara and Ned) arriving shortly afterwards. I hate the thought of being late you see. The course officially began at 9.30am but we were asked to arrive at 9.15am in order to get acquainted. After the introductions it was over to Jim to give us a quick health and safety brief before getting down to business. We were told the order of the day and what we were going to prepare. Fresh pasta ravioli with spinach, ricotta and egg yolk along with a roasted tomato and fennel soup that would be served at room temperature surrounding a chargrilled vegetable tian. To dress the latter dish we were to be shown how to make various oils and dressings. Jim is pretty flexible and will develop the course as the day goes. I like this flexibility as it means you progress at your own pace.
The first thing we made from our menu was the fresh pasta. Simple ingredients of plain flour, salt and eggs make something so impressive. Jim demonstrated how we were to make the pasta and then it was our turn. We weighed out our flour, added a big pinch of salt along with the beautifully fresh free range eggs. It was time to get our hands dirty and get a bit of a workout whilst we kneeded the dough to activate the gluten in the flour. The reason we made this first was because the dough needed an hour to rest in the fridge before the rolling out process. So we wrapped up our dough in cling film, popped our names on the top and into the fridge it went to rest.oak workstation.
Large roasting tins were filled with vine tomatoes, red peppers, fennel, onions, orange peel and juice, rosemary, garlic, Pernod and white wine. All chopped and prepared by us. A few simple knife skills were shown which we all tried to implement in our slicing. Once the veg was prepared and seasoned, the tins went into the state of the art Gaggenau ovens. Again, these needed time to roast down so it made sense to get this completed early on.
Back to our pasta that had been resting for an hour in the fridge. It was time to roll out and make our ravioli. I had never used a pasta making machine before but it was incredibly easy and I am now going to add one to my Christmas list! We rolled out the pasta and tried our hand at the other attachments on the machine which made spaghetti and tagliatelle. The mixture for the ravioli filling was a simple and traditional one. Spinach and ricotta seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon zest. This was placed on our rolled out pasta dough and carefully topped with an egg yolk. We had to work quickly to stop the pasta from drying out but at the same time extremely carefully so that the yolks didn’t break. I really enjoyed this part of the day as it made me realise that making pasta wasn’t all that hard (once you know how) and such a great skill to have.
Barbara, Ned and myself were left to our own devices for lunch. Red and white wine was placed on the table alongside water and elderflower bubbly for us to serve ourselves. Lucy had prepared some strawberries with a simple sugar syrup. Served with homemade white chocolate ice cream for our dessert. Simply good but oh so delicious.
Our afternoon was started with the whizzing up and blending of the roasted veg to create a smooth soup. That was put to one side whilst we chopped and chargrilled our vegetables for the tian (French for tower). The chargrilled veg were pressed into tall metal moulds in order to hold the shape. We packed the vegetables down and then put them in the fridge to set.
Whist they were chilling it was on to the flavoured oils. Basil oil and black olive oil were created using blanched basil leaves to retain the vivid green colour and pitted black olives. A really simple process using a blender and plenty of olive oil. These would be used to dress our soup and tian.
The left over pasta was cut into triangles and deep fried. Sprinkled with icing sugar to create these beautifully light after dinner biscotti. With the course coming to an end it was time to assemble our soup and tian dish to taste. I was so impressed with all of our efforts. Each of us created a visual masterpiece that tasted as good as it looked.
Our sweet treat to finish was the pasta biscotti that was served with a delicious dessert wine whilst we summed up our day.
I had a truly memorable experience and I haven’t stopped raving on about it to everyone that comes into my path. I desperately want to get booked on another course and have already asked Steve, my other half, for cookery school vouchers for Christmas (to go with my pasta maker!).
Anyone who loves cooking or who wants to learn new skills in a beautifully positioned and friendly place should sign up to one of Exeter Cookery School courses. My course was a full day but there are also half day and evening options available with prices starting from £65.00. Jim and Lucy want to do weekend and week long courses too once they more established. The courses available range from a spun sugar course to a butchery course with pretty much everything in between. They are also open to suggestions if there is something you would like to do in particular.
Like I said earlier, I haven’t stopped raving about how good my day was so I can’t urge you enough to get yourself booked on and let the wonderful Jim and Lucy guide you through a fantastic, foodie day.