Anyone who’s been to school will know that cooking classes are something of a stressful affair. Did your parents remember to buy 50g of chocolate chips for this week’s class? Will your teacher notice if you substitute them with a minced Mars bar? The anxiety caused by putting in the wrong quantities into a pizza base then hoping you’ll mask it with the flour shaker… shaken for fifteen minutes. Before eating your wares for lunch, one friend comments that your efforts “smell of cat food”. Or trying to transport a beautifully iced chocolate log home on the bus to present it at teatime, wishing you hadn’t bothered at all. So when an invitation to a day at Bettys Cookery School harboured in my inbox, I was not only excited at the prospect of cooking lessons from Bettys, but also seeing how a proper, grown-up cooking school operates. With all the risks of the home economics lessons, but in a room full of adults and no tedious scone project, whatever the outcome, this was always going to be a good day.
Bettys Cookery School is part of the Taylor’s tea empire. Address: Brewtopia, Harrogate. However, if you are like myself, one of those anomalies of an adult who gets by without owning a car, just alight the train at Starbeck and walk 10 minutes around a retail park to find it. The day started at 8:30 am with hot beverages and croissants before some friendly chitchat with the other bloggers I was to share my day with. The host, Jenny Culver, introduced the chefs who would be our tutors (Will Pemberton and Chris Taylor) and the menu for the day while the Cookery School staff were efficient at providing all the important information we needed. For full descriptive currency, I am going to give you the exact loquacious title for each dish.
Pan Fried Aromatic Beef Fillet with Cucumber Ribbons, Sweet Pickled Radish and Chilli & Mint Vermicelli.
Spiced Mackerel with a Baby Spinach, Beetroot & Citrus Salad and Wholemeal Seeded Pita Breads
Honey & Vanilla Baked Fig Filo Tarts with Greek Yoghurt and Burnt Orange.
They all sound lovely, don’t they? So lovely that it’s the kind of menu worth paying for someone else to cook. The variety of ingredients… the obscurity of aromatic beef and the sheer bewilderment that someone has found a purpose for radish.
The format of the cooking lessons was simple. The students would gather round the chefs’ work surface, which was displayed on a large screen, and watch them cook a few items of food so you didn’t miss any detail. We would then go to our own generously-sized workstations and repeat what had been demonstrated.
We started the day by getting the messiest task over with, filleting the mackerel. While I didn’t anticipate this, I remembered that this was grown-up cooking, and might’ve been the lesson our home ec’ teacher only dreamt of teaching, but dared not, lest risk piscine innards go astray. We were taught how to gauge the freshness of the fish (of course, Bettys mackerel would be a rottentomatoes.com Certified Fresh™).
After plucking the pinbones (well, most of them!) with a pair of tweezers, the fish was filleted and massaged with curry powder and it was time to make pita breads. To save time our ingredients had been weighed out for us. This made brisk work of the pita breads, which were in and out of the oven quicker than boiling an egg (well, almost!). Upbeat pop music played for atmosphere and pacified me when I was stressing about keeping up!
Part two was mixing the pickling liquor for the radish. Chef Will Pemberton explained the difference between light and dark soy sauce. (Light is for cooking; dark, seasoning.) Today we would be using the former. The day was loaded with useful cooking tips which we could apply at home, Will advised against using the root of an onion as it is very acidic. This day was already improving my home cooking. New techniques were taught too, such as using a teaspoon to dextrously peel ginger and deseed a chilli. Making a salad isn’t necessarily something a person would desire to go to lessons for (although that didn’t stop my school from teaching them), but how much nicer does a ribbon of cucumber appear, compared to a disc? ‘Nuff said.
In the next stage, we were enhancing the colour and flavour of the salad using grapefruit and pomegranate. Pomegranate gems were mined with a rolling pin and triggered anger, to avoid having to dust off the tweezers for the second time that day. The Cookery School is aiming for zero landfill so our pomegranate shells were added to a ‘food waste only’ bin, while paper was recycled.
The final cooking stage was making the fig tarts. A quick show of hands indicated that I was the only student who had made filo pastry before. “Once- and never again”. In hindsight, knowing how to make filo pastry easily would have been baking doctrine from the gospel according to Bettys. However, we were timetabled to leave at around 4pm so ready-made it was. The soaked figs made for an attractive dessert. While British cuisine holds the aces when it comes to puddings, we really struggle using fresh fruit. Delicious and Nutritious — title of the day was correct.
Since we made the recipes in parts, we weren’t sure of what the end result would look like. Thankfully those thoughtful tutors Chris and Will displayed the dishes in their intended form.
We then packed all our little creations away into cool bags and returned home to do the final part of cooking. Thankfully our recipe binder gave clear instructions on the final stage of preparation and serving. The food could be kept in the fridge for up to two days.
As I left Brewtopia at 4pm, the sun was setting, a choir of birds were singing in the hedgerow and an abundance of delicious food was waiting to be eaten, one could easily forget that a factory was next door.
Overall, I figured that the Delicious & Nutritious day isn’t necessarily just about making lovely food, nor learning how to repeat those dishes in your home kitchen, but rather learning simple techniques which you will use in everyday cooking and baking. I filleted a fish, ribboned cucumber, mined a pomegranate, cooked a rare steak, inflated pita breads, raised dough, spooned ginger and chilli, toasted an orange and had a really fun time. I’d recommend a Bettys Cookery School day as a gift for a foodie friend, but I’ll be going on another for myself first.