What’s it like
Nick Nairn, of TV cookery show and Michelin-star restaurant fame, has thrown himself into teaching others to cook. His purpose-built cookery school is in a beautiful spot, nestled among the trees beside the Lake of Menteith, about an hour’s drive from Glasgow.
The day kicked off with homemade shortbread. Nick swept in, taller than I remember him from The Great British Menu, to call us through, and a noticeable frisson went through the group. A fellow course-goer whispered to me in a Scottish brogue, “Nick’s practically a rock star round these parts.”
I knew there’d be nearly 20 of us so was concerned the class might be too big, but I needn’t have worried – the kitchen is big and well equipped. Nick’s a natural in front of a crowd, keeping our interest with his cooking tips and tales. Above his head large mirrors clearly caught the action inside the pans as we were shown what to do. There was time for questions before we headed to our stations to prepare the dishes demonstrated – with Nick and his sidekick Colin on hand to help if needed.
What I learned
The New Scottish Cookery course teaches an ambitious three-course menu, all made from scratch: lobster tortellini with lobster sauce; steak with bourguignon dressing, wilted spinach and truffle-baked potato; lemon posset with orange caramel. It’s quite high-end cookery, but Nick breaks it down into easy steps and makes it practical for the home cook.
He says he isn’t teaching recipes – that anyone can give you those – but rather techniques and processes. You need to listen, smell, taste, stir and think. We tuned in to the bubbling of a pan on the hob and heard it turn to a crackle – that tells you the wine has evaporated and the ingredients are frying.
Nick taught us to how to poach lobsters and extract all the meat from the shell and claws. Making lobster sauce is proper restaurant cooking and takes time, but the principles were clear enough. While the sauce simmered we made the lemon posset – so simple, yet heavenly (see recipe, right). I’d never made pasta by hand before and Nick’s method (in a food processor) is quick and easy; he showed us what the dough looks like if it’s too wet or too dry, and how to correct it.
The quality of the teaching is high. There’s a lot to take in; you’re learning advanced skills, but they’re doable (and you get to eat what you’ve cooked). The main take-home from the day was that cooking isn’t about rushing into recipes and robotically following the steps – it’s almost mindful: stop to think about what you’re doing, what you want to achieve, prepare for it, then follow logical steps – tasting all the way. It sounds obvious, but I bet there aren’t many of us who do it.
The school is a member of the Independent Cookery Schools Association.