What it’s like
Driving up towards Lucknam Park, a much-garlanded country house hotel near Bath, the magnificent setting stopped me in my tracks: horses trotted past the grand Cotswold-stone mansion, flowers lit up the borders of the manicured lawns and the sound of traffic faded away into the distance.
The estate, set in 500 acres of parkland, was purchased by a shipping family in 1994, and the place now functions as a hotel, spa, equestrian centre and cookery school.
The school is set inside a cottage, a short stroll from the main hotel. The kitchen is rustic yet modern, designed to mimic a domestic kitchen so the dishes can easily be re-created at home. I was greeted by Ben Taylor, my teacher for the day, with an offer of coffee, homemade pastries and the chance to get to know my fellow course-goers.
What I learned
Ben’s knowledge of fish and shellfish is remarkable, from sourcing the best produce to creating intricate dishes using fresh seasonal ingredients. The general consensus among the group was that preparing and cooking fish is daunting, but by the end of our stint in the kitchen we’d made canapés, starters and mains using mussels, tiger prawns, lemon sole, lobster, sea bass and more.
We learned the proper way to fillet fish, which many of us had never attempted before. The highlight for me was when Ben showed us how to smoke fish using cooking utensils found in a domestic kitchen – two pans, foil and a cooling rack are all you need. It’s something I’ll definitely be trying at home. We used this method to make tea-smoked mackerel rillettes on croutons.
Other dishes on the menu included grilled mackerel, chorizo and black olive couscous; tiger prawn and mussel stir-fry; prawn hot and sour soup; and lemon sole à la meunière. We greedily tucked into our fishy feast for lunch.
This course has take-away value, whatever your skill level. Ben’s excellent guidance led to great-tasting results, and each of us took home several recipes – as well as some fresh fish to get us started.