Believe it or not I have never been to a cookery school. That’s quite an achievement for someone who writes about food and loves eating. Considering all of this, I was delighted to be invited to Sophie’s Cookery School, popping up at Jacobs Inn. However, my cooking ignorance also extended to not actually knowing who Sophie was. So, without knowing too much, but always remaining enthusiastic, off I headed to Jacobs Inn to cook outside.
We were to be using organic produce courtesy of Riverford Farm, and Jake from Riverford was on hand to talk us through all of the ingredients we were to be using. Our venue for the evening was the outside cooking area at Jacobs Inn, including their magnificent wood burning pizza oven. Tools, Venue and Teachers sorted, we were all set, and with a lovely mug of mulled cider courtesy of Jacobs Inn, enough to warm the heart of a novice chef like me, off we went.
Initially, half of me wanted to stand, observe and learn, but the other half of me was urged to get stuck in and chop, stir and just generally have a go at everything we were to be doing. I was gently cajoled in to stepping out of my comfort zone and into a place where working with fresh, vibrant ingredients, with a dash of love (and a glass of mulled cider!) is commonplace to prepare the ingredients for the following menu:
Lisbon-style Chestnuts with Red Wine and Fennel
Chicken, Chickpea and Spring Green Stew
Roast Cauliflower with Date Syrup and Tahini
Turkish Candied Squash
Pizza – potato pizza
The highlight for me was the roasted cauliflower, prepared in some salt and olive oil and cooked in the wonderful Jacobs Inn outside pizza oven. Accompanying this was the date syrup and tahini. This was a wonderful dipping sauce to accompany the brocolli and this for me was the star of the show. It wasn’t the hardest thing that we cooked all evening, but boy was it the most rewarding. Why should complex dishes be the most rewarding? I am far (miles) from being a top chef, so any quick win tips like this show me that cooking simply can be very, very rewarding.
The potato pizza was a first for me having never prepared anything like it before, but using the Jacobs Inn pizza oven meant this was destined to go well. The result was simple excellence, marscapone cheese and anchovies, on top of thinly sliced potato on a brilliant dough cooked to perfection in the fire.
The Candied Squash was also an eye opener for me. I was given the (extremely) important task of stirring the mixture of chopped squashes with enough force to keep them going but with enough love to stop them crumbling, a position of great responsibility as the evening’s pudding fortunes depended on me (or so I liked to think!). For a while, as I stirred away, part of me was thinking this would make a fantastic savoury course. I didn’t have time to ponder for long, as we served up and up popped Sophie to add some finishing touches, including clotted cream, to turn this in to a winter warming desert. Again, simplicity in a dish, but one touch of magic from our teacher and it was transported into a dish of class.
Finally, we had the chicken dish. Jake from Riverford talked us through the differences between their chickens and those of the supermarket, and whilst price plays a big part, flavour is the key here. I am not a huge chicken eater, but Sophie took us through how to joint the chicken and then this was cooked to perfection providing yet another hearty dish in the form of a stew.
More important than all of the food was Sophie Grigson and her support staff. As you may have noted earlier, my ignorance extended to not knowing who Sophie was. Sophie’s teaching style is very relaxed, informal, but educational and with just enough direction to get you to where you need to be without feeling like you are being dictated to, and she knows how to cook, and some, which leaves you feeling confident and informed. It’s now fair to say I know know who she is! Her business partner, Emma Collen, was also on hand to ensure we all had everything we needed in terms of tools and information, ensuring that this was a relaxed, hands on and fun evening. Sophie and Emma form an excellent team and it is not hard to see why their events have received rave reveiws. Once you hade chopped, learned, prepared, cooked, tasted and served the dishes you then get the chance to sample the fruits of your labour. It struck me that on arrival everyone was a little sheepish, but ten minutes in the ice was well and truly broken when we were split into teams and herded into getting on with the task in hand. By the end of the evening I felt like I had made friends for the future, and enjoyed great food with them to boot. It goes without saying that Jacobs Inn, as always I must add, came up trumps with owner Johnny on hand to give us some tips on making pizza, provide us with mulled cider and just generally ensure we had everything we needed whilst also getting involved and making sure the evening went as well as it could.
All in all, I felt like I learned about, experienced and enjoyed cooking with Sophie and the rest of her team. I would recommend this for novice chefs all the way through to experienced chefs because there is something for everyone here. For those of you interested, get in touch with Sophie and her team via the website here: www.sophiescookeryschool.com/ – get cooking!