#STFFcooks – A week at Ashburton Cookery School

18th May 2015

 

My passion for cooking seems to grow by the day. I’m a fairly competent cook, but I am completely self-taught and things I don’t know how to do, I turn to YouTube for! A perfectly adequate medium to learn all manner of new skills, but I really wanted some hands-on experience and tips from a professional.

For a couple of years, I’ve been talking to The Better Half (TBH) about doing something but I just couldn’t decide what that was. Then I attended a Christmas baking day at the Miele show room in London and got talking to our kitchen assistant about where she did her training. Cue Ashburton Cookery School. I was already familiar with them because by pure fluke I followed the school and some of its chefs on social media. As soon as I left the baking day, I researched Ashburton and the courses on offer and decided that this was the place I wanted to go. They offer everything from half day courses through to professional qualifications. I chose to go for the intermediate course as I already have a fair base knowledge. Course booked, time off work booked, now all I had to do was wait….

The day finally dawned and all my bravado vanished out the window! Don’t get me wrong, I was still massively excited about the week ahead, but the fear of the unknown always seems to get me and I’m not going to lie, I shed a little tear when it came time to say goodbye to TBH! (such a sad sap, aren’t I?).

Arriving in Ashburton on the Sunday evening prior to the start day, I noticed what a quaint little town it is. Sitting just on the edge of Dartmoor, it really is picture perfect with lots of little specialist delis and cute shops. Nothing was open though and our days were so full that I never got the chance to explore the town. Although I did go for a couple of runs and what I saw of the countryside was certainly beautiful and hopefully I will be back to see more of it one day.

Day one:

At 09:15 on Monday morning, I took my seat in the briefing room and met my fellow classmates for the week. There were seven of us in total, ranging in ages from 18 to 72 and all with varying reasons for doing the course. Some were there just to expand their knowledge, others were looking for complete career changes or just to learn new life skills. Our tutor for the first three days was Ross, who has had experience working in Michelin starred restaurants in London and started teaching at Ashburton 6 months ago. My nerves immediately disappeared as they all seemed such a lovely bunch.

Every morning started with a bit of theory before we headed into the kitchen to cook lunch and dinner. Everything we cooked and made was either prep for a meal that day or later in the week.

Our kitchen and dining room for the week

Lunch:

* Poached salmon
* Saffron and dill risotto

Poached salmon with saffron and dill risotto

Poached salmon with saffron and dill risotto

Dinner:

* Griddled chicken with paysanne vegetables, roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic and basil oil
* Buttered new potatoes
* Chocolate pots with amaretti biscuits

Skills:

* Beef and vegetable stock
* Paysanne vegetables (Peasant vegetables in French)
* How to make risotto
* Poaching salmon
* Chocolate pots and decorations using piping bags
* Garlic and basil oil
* Chicken butchery

Things I learned today:

* Veal bones are better for stock as they’re younger and more gelatinous.
* Smear the bones with tomato paste and honey instead of just putting it straight into the liquid to avoid burning.
* When making stock, always start with cold water. As it heats up, it lifts the impurities and makes it easier to skim the fat.
* Stock can keep in the fridge for 4 days. If you’re going to freeze it, then reduce by half again and then freeze.
* When reducing stock to freeze, reduce to 10%. (So if you start with 3 litres of stock, reduce to 300ml)
* When griddling meat, only season with salt as pepper burns more easily.

Reflections of the day:

I felt happiness on another level and in total awe of what I was experiencing. If day one is anything to go by then the rest of the week was going to be incredible!

Day Two:

Lunch:

* Vichychoisse with white bread rolls

Vichysoisse with home made bread rolls

Vichysoisse with white bread rolls

Dinner:

* Roasted best end of local lamb with Madeira sauce & wild mushrooms
* Dauphinois potato
* Green vegetables
* Seasonal fruit with grand marinier, sabayon and praline

IMG_1011.JPG

Seasonal fruit with grand marinier, sabayon and praline

Skills:

* Making bread dough
* Chicken stock
* Vichyssoise
* Rich tomato sauce
* Making caramel and praline
* Preparing and French trimming best end of lamb
* How to make Madeira sauce
* Identifying and preparing wild mushrooms
* Preparing and segmenting oranges for dessert

Things I learned today:

* If you can’t find fresh yeast, use half the amount of powdered yeast.
* When making chicken stock, add the chicken first, bring to the boil and then add the vegetables.
* To make tomato ketchup just add white wine vinegar and some sugar to a basic tomato sauce recipe.
* Only use dried herbs when making a tomato sauce because fresh herbs will turn black during the cooking process. You can add fresh herbs like basil at the very end. Also only season at the end, just before serving.
* To get tomato juice, sieve the tomato seeds. They will release a lot of water and you can use this as tomato juice.
* To clean the pot after you’ve made caramel, fill the pot with water and put back on to boil. This will soften the caramelised sugar and make it easier to clean.

Reflections of the day:

Amazement at what we made, I still can’t believe I made my own bread! I was absolutely knackered and had very sore legs from standing all day, I have even more appreciation for professional chefs. I am sure I have picked up a substantial amount of weight with all the butter and cream we’ve been using!

Day three:

Lunch:

* Baked smoked haddock on a bed of buttered spinach with poached egg, melting local cheese and curry oil

Baked smoked haddock on a bed of buttered spinach with poached egg, melting local cheese and curry oil

Baked smoked haddock on a bed of buttered spinach with poached egg, melting local cheese and curry oil

Dinner:

* Local pork tenderloin “en papillote” with shaved funnel, apples, cider and thyme
* Apple mash
* Roasted honey glazed carrots and celeriac
* Coconut milk and lemongrass sorbet with tuile biscuits

Pork tenderloin rolled and stuff with lemon and sage

Pork tenderloin rolled and stuff with lemon and sage

Skills:

* Shortcrust pastry (prep for next day)
* Pork cut identification & slow cooked belly of pork (belly prep for Friday’s lunch)
* Curried oil
* Egg poaching in advance
* Sorbet
* Tuiles

Things I learned today:

* Soaking hard cheese such as cheddar in milk for an hour or more sets the fat in the cheese and the result is that the cheese just melts nicely over the dish rather than just ending up in a puddle.
* When zesting fruit, place a sheet of grease proof paper over the grater to catch all the zest and make it easier to clean.
* Cutting vegetables in the same size dice is called Macedoin.

Reflections of the day:

I woke up feeling tired and a little flat but as soon as we sat down for our morning briefing that all disappeared and the feelings of excitement and eagerness to learn came flooding back.
A sense of such pride when making and blind baking my very own short crust pastry and it actually looking quite good!

Day Four:

Today we had a change in tutor. Chef Joe Bartlett has been with Ashburton since the school opened. He has also had experience in working in Michelin star restaurants, does a lot of freelance work and you will find him serving amazing food in one of the pop ups at Glastonbury this year!

Lunch:

* Local ham & mature cheddar tart with mixed dressed leaves

Local ham & mature cheddar tart with mixed dressed leaves

Local ham & mature cheddar tart with mixed dressed leaves

Dinner:

* Goats cheese & red pepper tortellini with fresh pesto sauce
* Pan fried fillet steak with cafe de Paris butter, fat chips, balsamic roasted tomato, stuffed mushroom
* Crème Brûlée

Making tortellini

Making tortellini

Pan fried fillet steak with cafe de Paris butter, fat chips, balsamic roasted tomato, stuffed mushroom

Pan fried fillet steak with cafe de Paris butter, fat chips, balsamic roasted tomato, stuffed mushroom

Skills:

* Making crème brûlée
* Preparing quiches
* Pasta dough, rolling & making
* Vinaigrette
* Flavoured butters
* Portioning meat
* Making fresh pesto

Things I learned:

* Quiche is ready when you press the centre and no milky liquid comes out.
* Type 0 flour is better for mechanical processes (factory scale), Type 00 flour is best for making pasta at home.
* Flour is pasta’s enemy when rolling it out as it dries it out. Use semolina instead.
* If you want to make flavoured/coloured pasta , then add the appropriate purée. Such as spinach for green pasta or beetroot for red pasta.
* Once you’ve scraped out the vanilla seeds from the pod, dry out the pod and then blitz with sugar to create flavoured sugars.
* Very fine dice is called Brunois

Reflections of the day:

Even though I’ve made pasta before, I learnt some handy tricks which will make it easier going forward. I really enjoyed this day, it comprised many of my favourite things! Although it was A LOT of food and I was definitely in a bit of a food coma afterwards!

Day Five:

Lunch:

* Stuffed plaice fillets with roasted red peppers, saffron sauce and sautéed scallops
* Pan fried mackerel fillet with cannelini bean & tomato stew, crispy belly of pork & salsa verde

Filleting flat fish (plaice)

Filleting flat fish (plaice)

Stuffed plaice fillets with roasted red peppers, saffron sauce and sautéed scallops

Stuffed plaice fillets with roasted red peppers, saffron sauce and sautéed scallops

Pan fried mackerel fillet with cannelini bean & tomato stew, crispy belly of pork & salsa verde

Pan fried mackerel fillet with cannelini bean & tomato stew, crispy belly of pork & salsa verde

Skills:

* Making clarified butter
* Filleting flat fish (plaice)
* Filleting round fish (mackerel)
* Making fish stock
* Preparing scallops
* Making salsa verde
* Cooking pork belly

Things I learned:

* When making any stock, always double the amount of water to the amount of ingredients.
* If using a tea towel or muslin cloth to strain your stock, wet it first as it will enable the stock to pass through easier.
* Slimy fish is good. It produces this slime to prevent bacteria growing to the skin.
* If sauces taste greasy, squeeze in some lemon juice as the acidity will break down the oil.
* Pan fry = adding oil into the pan and then adding the ingredients. Pan-sear = adding oil to the ingredients and then adding to the pan.

Reflections of the day:

I realised that I enjoyed the butchery and filleting lessons much more than I thought I would and once you know how it do it, it’s relatively easy. All you need is a good knife.

With Chef Ross

My class with Chef Joe and kitchen assistant Jordan

My class with Chef Joe and kitchen assistant Jordan

And finally…

…that as they say is that. I can’t believe that my week at Ashburton Cookery School is over. Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun!

As you can see, we learned a lot during our time and the tips that we got from the chefs were really invaluable.The staff are all extremely passionate – from the office staff to the kitchen assistants that did all our washing up and prep. The produce we used was some of the best I’ve come across and they really do promote the use of local and seasonal ingredients. Not only have I come away with a really expensive set of knives, I have also improved my skills and increased my confidence levels in the kitchen. I’m already researching my next course!

Hopefully my loved ones will all reap the benefit of my week at Ashburton!

Until we cook again!

#STFF

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12 Comments

  • Reply frankie the mayfairy 26th May 2015 at 21:16

    Look at you being awesome! Your food looks brilliant, truly professional. Next stop: #STFF pop up restaurant! x

    • Reply SamTheFoodfan 26th May 2015 at 21:30

      Thanks Frankie! I can’t even describe how awesome it was! Highly recommend the school!

  • Reply Anne 27th May 2015 at 21:31

    I did this course a few years ago (before they moved to the new buildings) – I loved it and it taught me so much. We made the mackerel/belly pork dish too; must be a favourite.

    • Reply SamTheFoodfan 28th May 2015 at 13:04

      It was wonderful Anne, glad you enjoyed it too! I definitely want to do more courses with them!

  • Reply Sandy (@smarksthespots) 29th May 2015 at 08:40

    I’m so impressed with all the things you learnt in such a short period! It’s great you decided to realize your dream; I second the #STFF pop up restaurant 🙂

    Sandy
    http://www.smarksthespots.com

    • Reply SamTheFoodfan 29th May 2015 at 15:35

      Ah thanks Sandy – who know where this may lead, but I enjoyed it a lot and it’s definitely given me the bug to learn more!

  • Reply Sophie (@S_LovesFood) 12th June 2015 at 10:25

    This looks great Sam! Definitely persuaded me that I need to go. Would love to do the patisserie course…think I need to start saving!x

    • Reply SamTheFoodfan 12th June 2015 at 11:35

      There was someone on my course that did the patisserie course and loved it! Would highly recommend them, really great experience!

  • Reply Andrea Petersen 21st August 2015 at 13:30

    Woweeeee the food you made all looks and sounds super delish! Particularly wanting to eat Friday’s menu nom nom! Can’t believe you made all of those things from scratch, very impressive and so cool that you know how to from now. Would love to do a cooking course 🙂 Lots of love, Andrea xxx

    Andrea’s Passions

    • Reply SamTheFoodfan 21st August 2015 at 15:26

      It was amazing Andrea! I loved every minute of it! Am looking at doing the advanced course next year!

  • Reply Karrie 7th December 2015 at 15:04

    Thank you for the blog, I am still thinking if i should do the course in Halifax (Yorkshire) [because i live in the North] or in Devon.

    Just one question if you dont mind me asking, when you pay for the “school fee”, is that including accommodation for the week?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Reply SamTheFoodfan 7th December 2015 at 15:53

      Karrie – I highly recommend it. I loved every minute of it and I am still using all the skills and recipes I learnt. The accommodation cost is in addition to the course fee. I opted to stay on site, but you don’t have to.

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