WHAT IT’S LIKE
It’s a rare occasion when you get to cook a Spanish tapas feast in an imposing British castle, but this was one such day. Driving into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the first glimpse of the 20,000-acre Swinton Estate is nothing short of breathtaking.
The long driveway snakes past manicured lawns where deer graze freely, and up to the turreted castle. The cookery school is in the converted stables. I fell instantly for the kitchen. There’s space aplenty, bright but not stark lighting, and though the induction hobs and granite worktops look professional, the ambience feels more country kitchen.
WHAT I LEARNED
Tutor Kevin Hughes is an advocate of simple, delicious food. “There’s no point in complicating cooking,” he says. A former chef-lecturer at Leeds City College, he joined Swinton in January 2017 and is entirely at ease in his role as head cookery school tutor.
Kevin’s energy is infectious – if the welcome coffee hasn’t geed you up for the day ahead, his introduction to the course surely will. He talked us through the menu and how we were to set about making the dishes. He also offered to teach us anything else we liked (apparently ‘how to poach an egg’ is a popular request), then deftly popped some proved dough into the Aga to bake, ready for the impending feast.
There were just three of us on the course (there’s room for 12) and the day was an enjoyable mix of communal learning and hands-on experiences, with some getting-to-know-you chat and lots of laughter. Kevin demonstrated some of the dishes (he prepped squid and clams to make calamari with aïoli, and clams with sherry and serrano ham); others we learned by making them ourselves.
A fellow course-goer and I blackened peppers on a gas hob while Kevin and another made the marinade to transform them into a wonderfully smoky tapas dish. With concise, clear recipes and working under Kevin’s expert eye, I felt comfortable taking a station by myself to cook chorizo in red wine (oh the aromas!) and a huge Spanish tortilla made for sharing.
The resulting spread of tapas could have fed a dozen or more: a true fiesta of food, and even though we were in a sleepy corner of Yorkshire, the atmosphere was equally lively. We all thrived off the teaching, the relaxed feel and – crucially – the fun of the day, as well as the quality of dishes made by our own fair hands. Kevin knows how to make learning about food more than just interesting – he makes it exciting. And that, in my book, is the most important take-home skill of all.
The school is part of the Independent Cookery Schools Association.
WHERE I STAYED
The jewel of the Swinton Estate is the towering castle dating back to the 1800s. Its 32 large rooms flaunt four-poster beds and huge modern bathrooms with posh toiletries and plush dressing gowns, not forgetting the complimentary sloe gin.
As for the food, we enjoyed head chef Mehdi Amiri’s stunning dishes in the hotel’s 3-AA-rosette restaurant, Samuel’s. Fancy something simpler? Head to the bar for snacks, sandwiches and classic brasserie-style grub. Breakfast is a feast – arrive hungry.
*B&B from £195 per room