Cookery school review: River Cottage
What it’s like
I felt as if I’d died and gone to foodie heaven when I arrived at River Cottage. The only thing more breathtaking than the rolling Devon countryside, which sits as a backdrop to the cookery school, were the dishes I prepared and ate that day.
As for the course, its simplicity struck me most. The stripped-down curriculum covers the basics of cookery in an eye-opening way; it equips you with the knowledge to cook the dishes taught on the day (of course), but also gives you some solid skills and the confidence to branch out and try new recipes – maybe even improvise a bit – in the future.
What I learned
The day started out as most days should: by knocking out a freshly baked loaf. Chef Matthew Gojevic took the 15-strong group through the initial steps of baking River Cottage’s signature wholemeal loaf, broken down simply yet scientifically. He discussed the correct wholemeal-to-strong-white-bread-flour-to-salt ratio, the rising time needed and how to bake a loaf that has a fluffy centre encased by a crisp, golden crust.
Another highlight was when Matt taught us how to scale and prepare a whole pollock for a fish curry. Picture 15 novices scraping away at their fish, scales flying everywhere – it was as comical as it was informative. I learned how to deconstruct the large fish from the fillet to the cheeks – a useful skill that will come in handy the next time my fishmonger has flu…
There was no better way to finish our day than by making fresh elderflower pannacotta – I know how fresh it was, because we foraged for the elderflowers in the River Cottage grounds. This final task emphasised the organic farm’s focus on provenance and local eating.
Anyone coming on this course will leave feeling thoroughly spoiled. The food is superb, the expertise top-notch and the ingredients, many from River Cottage’s own kitchen garden, are all of a high standard. You get immersed in the cooking process as well as in the provenance of the food you’re cooking. Learning to appreciate the journey of the ingredients from organic farm to plate is at the core of the day. Put your phone and other tech aside, pull on an apron and get ready to use all your senses to appreciate the small things – they taste oh-so good.
Where to stay
Old Park Hall, Lyme Road, Devon
There are no bedrooms at River Cottage, so this cosy B&B, just down the road, is the ideal bolthole. Rooms are beautifully styled with a mix of rustic and modern touches: log fires and reindeer hides meet flatscreen TVs and coffee machines. As for the food, breakfast is owner Daisy’s speciality: there’s the hearty full English, as well options such as avo on toast for the more health conscious (and a bloody mary bar for those who aren’t). The supper menu is small but satisfying – and good-value at just £20 for a main, dessert and glass of wine. B&B from £90 per night.