The last time I attended a cookery course, at a leading Michelin-star kitchen in the South of France, I vowed that I would never do so again. As an English-speaking beginner, who was also, horror of horrors, borderline vegan, let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Thankfully, the experience could not have been more different at the Quince House Cookery School at Limpsfield Chart, near Oxted, on the Surrey/Kent border.
Tucked away down a tiny lane, in an idyllic woodland setting, this unlikely culinary hotspot is found at the beautiful home of Katharine Eldridge. A former teacher at the famous Tante Marie Culinary Academy in Woking, where she worked for 10 years, she decided to set up her own school in 2008.
“It was really thanks to some school mums, who persuaded me to run a bespoke class just for them, that I had the idea of running classes from my own home,” says Katharine, who lives with her husband and three children. “Initially, it was just demonstrations, but slowly it became clear that clients liked the idea of ‘hands-on’ classes – and the fact that the classes were small was a real bonus. As the classes are also well-prepared, leaving me with plenty of time to help everyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re a real beginner, either.”
And so it is, that on a rainy Wednesday morning, four of us find ourselves standing nervously around the expansive island in the middle of Katharine’s kitchen. For our course, Hands On Thai, we are going to be doing an authentic four-course feast – featuring Green Thai Curry; Pad Thai; Crab Fried Rice; and Spring Rolls – with vegan options for me. So, no mean feat then. However, under Katharine’s clear and careful guidance, and with each recipe broken down into small manageable steps, we are soon cooking up a storm.
“I’ve always loved teaching cookery,” says Katharine, who is now working on her second Quince House cookbook. “To me, it is such a great skill to have. I especially enjoy teaching parents so they can then pass on their love of food to their children. I like to know what goes into my food and know what I am feeding my children – it’s brain power after all! Participants leave with simple but nutritious recipes to feed the family and hopefully dishes that don’t cause them too much stress in the kitchen.”
Whatever your level, it’s also a great opportunity to pick up some expert tips. For instance, Katharine is quick to point out that I’m holding my knife incorrectly. Sounds silly, I know, but it just never occurred to me to position my forefinger on the top – thereby ensuring greater precision.
Also, to deseed a chill, simply rub it between your hands to loosen the skin and then gently squeeze the seeds out the end. And the way to slice an onion without bringing tears to your eyes? Remove the ends only when you’ve finished slicing the rest, because that’s where most of the tear-inducing juices are stored.
“I like the idea that students can come and learn in small groups,” continues Katharine, who only takes a maximum of four students per course. “There is never any pressure in the class; hopefully just a fun morning. My main objective is that students leave more confident than when they arrived; confidence is everything in the kitchen.”
Looking at the terrific Thai feast I’ve just rustled up, I have to say that my confidence has come on leaps and bounds – and I’m especially proud of the carefully-crafted spring rolls (a lot easier than you might think). Later, I will discover that all four dishes also taste amazing too. Michelin-starred chefs, eat your heart out…
Tags: cookery school