Review: The Vegetarian Society Cookery School
The course: Festive Feasts (£139 for the day with lunch)
Where: The Vegetarian Society Cookery School, Altrincham
What it’s like
Altrincham, a small, leafy suburb just south of Manchester, is fast becoming known for its foodie scene. The recently revamped market and increasing number of quirky, independent restaurants bring people from miles around. It’s here that I found The Vegetarian Society headquarters, in a large Victorian house 20 minutes’ walk from the station.
After a quick cup of tea with the rest of the class and introductions from Alex and Jonathan, our charismatic tutors, we headed to the kitchen. It’s a muted green, Farrow & Ball-painted affair with professional stainless steel work tops and every gadget you can imagine, even a ceramic ginger grater, which I made a note to buy myself.
What I learned
To get us warmed up, Alex started the class with basic knife skills. As he explained the cheffy way to dice, slice and chop an onion we each practiced at our own stations. Despite being a good home cook, I couldn’t master the technique exactly. But Alex was very relaxed and assured us that it’s best (and safest) to do whatever feels comfortable. The class moved on quickly to the first recipe of the day – sticky fig and walnut pies, inspired by Rose Elliot’s suet-free mince pies. It was more of an assembly job, each of us chopped one ingredient, before combining the lot in a bowl and spooning into ready-made pastry. Served warm with a dollop of cream, the pies tasted great with our mid-morning cup of tea and we promised we’d be making them again.
We continued the rest of the day each cooking a different recipe. There was cheese and Quorn lattice pie, savoury cheesecake and chestnut wellington to choose from. I opted for mushroom pâté made with walnuts and breadcrumbs, served with grilled chicory and a caper dressing. Although the texture was a little more crumbly than I expected, the flavour was wonderfully rich and savoury. Alex was constantly on hand to answer questions or save the day when disaster struck – once when somebody set a pan on fire and again when someone dropped a whole pie on the floor. The course was perfect for beginner cooks as none of the dishes were too tricky. I certainly picked up some helpful tips throughout the class, like how to stop filo pastry from drying out or how to make sugar baskets. Once we had all completed our dishes, we carried them through to the dining room and ended the day with a proper Christmas lunch.
Who’d benefit most from this course? If you or someone in your family has recently become vegetarian and you want to serve more than nut roast for Christmas lunch, this is the class for you. While it might not be the most challenging, you will come away knowing how to cook a number of hearty, comforting dishes which taste great and are easily achievable at home. The highlight for me was the team working at Veg Soc, they were really friendly and have a clear passion for vegetarian food.
Christmas courses at The Vegetarian Society Cookery School begin 4 November and finish 6 December 2017.