Determined to better your baking, face up to fish, or venture into vegetarian? Clare Hunt selects some new courses running at various local cookery schools
In Devon, we’re about as foodie as they come. We’ve got world-beating meat, veg, fruit and dairy growing on our doorstep, a wealth of outstanding food producers and an abundance of talented chefs running top-class restaurants. Inspired? We certainly should be.
Taking a cooking class may not be something you’ve ever considered before, but when it comes to top-notch cookery schools, Devon has it all. Everyone has something to learn – whether you lack the confidence to scramble an egg or are keen to perfect your patisserie – and there is a class that will suit every ability, every area of gastronomic interest and every style of cuisine. So dust off your apron and make broadening your culinary horizons your New Year’s resolution for 2017.
In an enviable waterside location on the city’s quayside, the Exeter Cookery School is a relatively new kid on the block. Jim and Lucy Fisher offer a range of half-day, full-day or evening courses for all levels of experience. Jim says: “We often have people say they already know how to cook, or conversely they don’t have the confidence to try, but we feel we can offer everyone an informative, inspiring and above all fun experience with like-minded individuals.” With courses already covering everything from pastry to classic sauces, boulangerie favourites to shellfish and seafood, 2017 will see Jim and Lucy offer courses for university students and teens, as well as Indian cookery with Nila Ross.
With a wealth of awards under its belt and more than 20 years’ experience, Ashburton is one of the best known and most successful cookery schools in the UK, never mind Devon. All levels of skill are catered for; and while the kitchens may be swanky, the ambience is relaxed and welcoming. Top-quality, locally sourced produce is used throughout and you really will taste the difference. For 2017, the School is introducing Demo & Dine evenings featuring a 50-minute cookery demo in which the chef-tutors prepare two courses, followed by an informal dinner to taste what’s just been demonstrated.
Run by David and Holly Jones, Manna from Devon offers courses that are relaxed, hands-on and intended to fill participants with enthusiasm and ambition. Produce is local, but recipes have diverse influences, inspired by David and Holly’s travels. As well as breadmaking, fish and family cooking, there’s a special passion for wood-fired cooking, and this will remain a particular focus for 2017. Manna from Devon will offer an Indian cooking masterclass with Romy Gill MBE of Romy’s Kitchen, a fish cooking day with Mitch Tonks from the Seahorse, and a series of pop-up Sunday lunches, with Jonathan and Suzie Sutton from Michael Sutton Cellars providing the wine. No shortage of tips from the experts there, then.
Whether you dip your toe into a one-day course or immerse yourself in a full-on four days, you can expect your experience to be imbued with the ethos for local, seasonal, organic or wild food that is so closely associated with River Cottage. As well as covering baking, meat and fish, there are more specialist courses focussed on healthy living and happy digestion. In 2017, Rachel De Thample joins the team of tutors teaching a seasonal preserves course designed to reveal all the secrets behind cordials, jams, chutneys, pickles, liqueurs, home-grown tisanes and gut-friendly ferments.
Set in a beautiful rural location on a working farm, courses at Occombe are run by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, whose work is supported by the School’s profits. Courses embrace everything from bread-baking to French rustic cookery; and some, such as cider-making, have a local or seasonal flavour. Children’s workshops encourage 5- to 12-year-olds to have a go at baking. Courses for 2017 have a strong international flavour, including Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian regional cookery. And if you think you’ve got the next generation’s Mary Berry in the family, there’s a Kids’ Spring Bake Off too.
For a real heart-of-the-kitchen experience, visit Helen Scull at her cookery school in Shaldon. With a particular focus on cooking using an AGA or range cooker (although instructions are also given for conventional ovens and cookers), Helen’s courses are especially good for those keen to improve their bread-making, cakes, baking and home entertaining. Sunday Lunch and Afternoon Tea courses for 2017 involve a demonstration of key dishes followed by the opportunity to indulge in lunch or tea. Groups are limited to six, and one-to-one courses can be arranged.
Run by Penny and Dragan from their edge-of-Dartmoor cottage, the Artisan Bakery School is all about imparting a thorough knowledge and understanding of what makes dough really work, and helping people fit regular baking into busy lives. Classes are relaxed and fun, and as Penny observes: “Once they’re up to their elbows in flour, even the most unlikely mix of people all end up friends.” From pizza-making to Viennoiserie, all courses are supported by informative recipe books full of tips and techniques, and every participant takes home a free sourdough starter. Selected bread-making courses are available online, and 2017 will see the introduction of a new course on heirloom grains and heritage techniques, focussed on getting the best out of ancient grains.
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