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Take a talented young chef, bucket loads of ambition and bags of energy. Mix with a flock of ducks, several million bees, an orchard and a vegetable garden. In the centre, place a professional kitchen and add a sprinkling of people keen to improve their culinary skills. 

The result? New Four Gables Food Academy – the cookery school on a smallholding tucked away in a rural corner of Ashtead, Surrey.

The brainchild of classically-trained chef David Gillott, 23, Four Gables is a cookery school like no other. Not content with creating a high-tech kitchen in which to teach his pupils, David is also establishing Four Gables Farm, his three and a half acre smallholding. Within six months of digging the first bed in January 2012, he is celebrating achieving 25% self-sufficiency. Ducks provide a constant supply of fresh eggs and David plans to take his first honey from the 15 hives in July. Kitchen waste is composted and water collected for the raised beds. Pigs and goats are due to arrive soon. 

Blazing a trail

Born and bred in Surrey, David’s career as a chef has seen him working at top restaurants, including Michelin starred 1 Lombard Street, as well as top sporting venues. He has cooked for royalty (Prince Charles) and icons including Johnny Depp and Mick Jagger. His upmarket catering business, Four Gables Fine Dining, is blazing a trail across London and the South East.  So what brings him to a set up a food academy in a sleepy part of leafy Surrey?   

 “It has long been my dream, because I believe everyone can cook really well,” says David, immaculately attired in his chef’s whites. “I don’t believe in keeping the lid on professional secrets,” he continues. “Cooking is an art, and to some degree a science, but it’s not brain surgery. Sure, a talented and experienced chef can cook up amazing meals often under the most enormous pressure, and that’s a great skill, but give me a day with even the most nervous cook and I’ll have them turning out some really nice dishes. They leave with great food and armed with failsafe techniques that really help their confidence.”

Four Gables isn’t just for nervous or amateur cooks. David welcomes students of all abilities including experienced cooks who are keen to try something new. “We recently had two ladies here who were in their seventies,” he explains. “They already knew how to cook, but they wanted to learn how to prepare more exotic food, so they booked onto our Fusion course. They had a great time and really loved the whole experience of a day at the academy.”

‘Experience’ is a word that David often uses to describe his cookery classes. He is keen to point out that the days are completely hands-on, and he encourages his pupils to enjoy the experience in full (except the washing up!).  There is plenty of chance to socialise, from the coffee and biscuits on arrival to the relaxed sit-down lunch in the academy’s purpose-built dining room. Not to mention a foraging trip to the smallholding to collect ingredients. So should students bring protective attire for honey harvesting?

“No, no!” laughs David. “Collecting honey is definitely one job I keep for myself and indeed I have bought myself a rather ridiculous camouflage-style bee suit. I thought it made me look like Bear Grylls but I am assured that is not quite the case,” he adds. 

Ridiculous attire aside, David is on a perfectly serious mission to spread his message that good food and seasonal produce is something that can be enjoyed by everyone. So where would he like to be this time next year? Without missing a beat, David replies: “I would like to grow the academy to doing three courses per week and become known as ‘the’ local food person.”

Step aside Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, David Gillott is on your trail.  

Read more about Four Gables Food Academy, the new cookery school in Ashtead, Surrey

Tags: cookery school Four Gables Food Academy david gillott