Cookery school review: Four Gables Food Academy
The course: Flavours of the Med, £130 for a half-day course (includes lunch with wine)
Where: Four Gables Food Academy, Ashtead, Surrey
What’s it like
Tucked away in a village where the locals all seem to know one another lies a smallholding with converted stables that’s home to a few wandering pigs and sheep. Now a cookery school called Four Gables, it’s owned by chef David Gillott, who’s taken his experience of working in restaurants in London and the Alps and put it into running cookery courses in this pretty Surrey spot.
My fellow students and I were welcomed in out of the grey, wet weather with a hot cuppa, then eased into a chat about everyone’s previous cooking experience. The school has a rustic-modern vibe, with its wooden exterior, countryside location and portable induction hobs. I was pleased to discover there are a maximum of six students per class, so there’s no fighting over equipment.
What I learned
Adam Blanchard, a former chef at Claridges in London, was our teacher for the day. He began with a demonstration on how to make focaccia – a favourite of mine. It rested, proved and baked in the background while we cooked our way through several other dishes: risotto, pesto, falafel with tzatziki, and tortellini.
While the list of recipes may seem daunting (this is a half-day course, after all), a few of the dishes are partially prepared, allowing course-goers to focus on learning the technique and how to build flavour. The pesto was chunky and simple to make using a pestle and mortar – and, as I discovered later, wonderful with the focaccia. I didn’t mind that the potato and the chickpeas for the falafel had already been cooked and whizzed to a paste, as it was better to spend class time on less basic processes. The crux of the recipe – altering the seasoning to suit your taste and learning how to make tzatziki – was what I was keen to get stuck into.
The highlight of the day was being taught the correct way to cook risotto. The trick is to do it slowly, with wine, patience – and a lot of butter! Adam also taught us how to shell and cook fresh scallops without massacring them: use a table knife and cut straight down the middle between the two shells (keeping the blade against the flat shell), then press the knife firmly into the base of the shell and twist to prise it apart. Once open, use a spoon to coax the scallop away from the shell, being careful to keep it connected to its orange roe. We also learned how to cook scallops without turning them to rubber: sear briefly in a hot pan (we’re talking a matter of seconds on each side); it’s vital not to overcook them. I proudly positioned my scallops – soft, sweet and slightly caramelised – on top of my patiently made risotto and enjoyed the dish for lunch with a glass of ice-cold rosé.
Next we returned to our stations and made the filling for the tortellini while Adam rolled out pre-made pasta dough. I was disappointed we didn’t make the pasta from scratch ourselves, as I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that properly, but it was interesting to see how to fill and shape the tortellini before taking them home to cook for dinner.
The course is a great starting point for exploring Mediterranean cooking – useful for anyone who wants to edge out of their cookery comfort zone. Most of the recipes can be adapted to suit your taste, though if you aren’t so confident you can follow them to the letter and still be proud of the end result.
Adam touched on Italian and Greek cuisine and deftly steered the class at a comfortable pace. He made sure no task was too complicated and the timings were helped along by the ‘here’s-one-I-prepared-earlier’ moments. My only criticism is that there were, for me, a few too many of those. delicious. readers can get 10% off a course at Four Gables by quoting the code ‘delicious’ when booking online or calling