What it’s like
You know you’re in good hands when chefs with the standing of Nigel Haworth and his right-hand woman Lisa Allen are around – their restaurant in the boutique Lancashire hotel Northcote holds a Michelin star.
Now the northern duo have invited another talent into their culinary circle: Michael Vanheste, whom they headhunted from the renowned Bettys Cookery School in Yorkshire. Together they intend to make Northcote Cookery School, which opened in April 2014, one of the UK’s best. Given those credentials, I was eager to have a mosey round the place.
The school is right next door to the restaurant’s professional kitchen, and the glass screen that separates the two provides prime viewing of all the action. The cookery school’s kitchen is compact, accommodating a maximum of eight, but the design is über slick, with state-of-the-art technology providing coursegoers with a no-expense-spared experience.
What I learned
Making patisserie puts the fear of Paul Hollywood in me. Fretting about soggy bottoms, cracked pastry cases and curdled crème pâtissière has thus far led me straight to the ready-made aisle. But Michael’s jolly demeanour and expert demonstrations put me instantly at ease.We began by making pâte sucrée (sweet pastry) for lemon meringue and seasonal fruit tarts, then moved on to Italian meringue, (curdle-free!) crème pat and choux pastry for éclairs and the classic dessert, paris-brest, in which two rings of choux pastry sandwich praline cream.
There were plenty of culinary tips along the way: brush baked tart cases with a little melted white chocolate to prevent leakage; use a veg peeler to smooth sharp pastry edges; an aptly placed berry or edible flower will hide imperfections a treat. And the cold hands thing? Michael says it’s a myth – the trick is to work quickly and handle the pastry as little as possible.
The day was action-packed but laugh-out-loud fun, striking the right balance between educational and enjoyable. Michael is among the finest tutors I’ve had the pleasure of learning from and, thanks to him, I’m a pastry-making convert.