What it’s like
Arriving at Southrop Manor Estate, where the cookery school is based, I felt as though I’d stumbled across a secret hideaway. Miles of traffic-free country lanes lead to a gravel courtyard framed by old Cotswold stone buildings that blinker the countryside beyond.
The Estate was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is thought to have been a monastic house and garden at one time. In 2002, the Hibbert family bought it and embarked on a lengthy restoration project. The end result is so atmospheric that I instantly decided I wanted to move here.
And as I stepped inside the cookery school, staged in one of the old barns, I was set on keeping the décor, too. The kitchen is slick and vast, with room for 16 students at a time. On the island before me were baskets of fresh, seasonal ingredients – plucked partridges, walnuts in their shells, still-muddy onions… But course leaders Daryll Taylor and MasterChef champ Marjorie Lang (she won the show back in 2000) announced there were more to be sourced. So, wellies on, we headed down to the kitchen garden (more of a smallholding really) to pull up leeks and harvest huge cavolo nero leaves.
What I learned
The day is an education by definition. Daryll and Marj know everything about the ingredients they use, from how to grow or rear them, when to harvest them, what to cook them with and how. “Generally, what grows together, goes together,” Marj told me – the ideal mantra for cooking instinctively with the seasons.
And to confirm their ethos, the menu for the day’s course was decided only the night before. “We wanted to wait and see what was at its best,” said Daryll. We made mussels en papillote; taralli (crunchy Italian pepper-spiced biscuits); partridge with chorizo, cavolo nero, rioja and white beans; and (hand-shelled) walnut, honey and cognac tart – then happily tucked into the lot with a healthy supply of quality wine.
This is true field-to-fork cooking – and boy does it taste good. The tutoring, ingredients and resulting dishes are superb. Nearly half the class had attended a course at Thyme before. In fact, two women in my group travel from Connecticut in the US about three times a year to learn at Thyme, leading Daryll to joke about introducing loyalty cards. I’ve put my name down for one, just in case he’s serious.