A FEW years ago, I made a birthday cake for a friend which she refused to eat, because she didn’t trust my cooking. It came after years of people turning down the ‘vegetarian muck’ I offered to feed them, and the development of a habit where I would eat the results of my own cooking, regardless of how bad it looked or tasted. Needless to say, my confidence in my cooking ability is not excessive.
Still, I enjoy cooking, and I don’t think I can be as bad as other people suggest, so when the opportunity arose to learn how to do it properly, I jumped at the chance.
Seasoned Cookery School has been up and running at Catton Hall for just over a year. With a new, purpose-built facility in one of the estate buildings, it offers a variety of different courses teaching people the intricacies of gastronomic delights including Asian street food, cakes, pies and game-based dishes.
I attended the Italian Cooking Class – and being a fan of Mediterranean cooking, I hoped it would be useful.
All classes are led by professional chefs, including a number of Masterchef finalists, and a couple of familiar faces from The Great British Bake Off.
The Italian course was led by Sara Danesin Medio, who made the final of BBC show Masterchef in 2001. With a native leading the way, I was sure I would learn a think of too about how to do it right.
The day started with a lesson in how to make mango parfait. Without even looking at the recipe, it sounded complicated, but watching Sara mix and whip, it seemed much easier than anticipated.
We were put into pairs to make the dessert, which needed several hours to set in the fridge. I was put in charge of heating the mango, vanilla and gelatine – and not burning it, which I thought would be the greatest challenge. The mousse would be chilled for several hours and eaten with a passion fruit syrup and black olive caramel later in the day. Thankfully, we didn’t have to make that bit.
Next up was a seafood risotto, which was easily the most challenging dish for me and others in the 12-strong group.
I’m a dab hand at a mushroom risotto, but I’ve never cooked fish in my life – particularly when I’m asked to pull its head off and remove innards.
The sight of full baby squid and langoustine on my chopping board did little to get my appetite up, but, in the name of producing a full article, I put my squeamishness to one side and got on with squeezing and peeling and all sorts of things. The discomfort was worthwhile when I tasted my dinner. It was delicious, and not half as difficult as I’d expected.
By a couple of hours in I’d relaxed into the day. I had been concerned it would feel like going back to school, and I would be chastised for my haphazard style of cooking – or for the results. However, it was all very informal and supportive, and much-improved by the fact my food seemed to go well.
Next, we were shown how to make our own pesto and how to put together aubergine parmigina. With layers of aubergine, tomato sauce and cheese, this was much more up my street, and it tasted so good, I’ve recommended it to my mum for Christmas dinner.
The thing which surprised me the most was just how simple all the dishes had been to put together. It was refreshing to see a recipe and not feel overwhelmed by the list of ingredients and complicated method. I really felt like I could make these things at home.
The piece de la resistance, as far as I was concerned, was making my own pasta, especially when I discovered it was as simple as mixing an egg and some flour with my hands.
I think I slightly overcooked mine, but it was still better than the 50p dried stuff I normally buy. If I only had a pasta machine, I’d be sold on making my own from now on.
We ate the pasta – cut into parpadelle – with a wild mushroom and cream sauce, and it tasted wonderful.
I left feeling full and very pleased with my newly-realised culinary skills.
I’ve always thought of myself as more of a baker than a cook, but I’m now very tempted to explore the further possibilities of making food which is not only edible by my standards, but by those I try to force it on.
More information about courses available at Seasoned is available by calling 01283 810275 or visiting www.seasonedcourses.com