Cookery school review: Waitrose Cookery School
Course: Secrets of Fine Dining Cookery, £180 – this course is no longer running, but you can find plenty more courses on the Waitrose website, including Chef Skills, Vegetarian, Fish and Curry Nights
Where: Waitrose Cookery School, Finchley Rd, London
What it’s like
Waitrose Cookery School is slick and professional. The workstations gleam with modernity, there are eager washer-uppers on hand and there’s a state-of-the-art demonstration theatre.
It was from the theatre that our affable chef-instructor Martin gave us a demo of the starter we were to prepare. Then the group of 16 students paired up to replicate it: green tea smoked venison with miso-glazed beetroot, yuzu and wasabi snow. Wow. Luckily my cookery partner was a dab-hand with the pans, and had the memory and cool head to get us through the more challenging steps. But for any who struggled, other Waitrose chefs were on hand to help.
Martin also showed us how to make the main course – a surf ’n’ turf combo of Chinese-style glazed sous-vide pork belly with apple foam, and crisp-skinned cod on hazelnut ‘sand’ with glazed baby veg. Then a pastry chef, Eleni, demonstrated pudding – an exquisite Baileys chocolate mousse sponge with chocolate ‘soil’, salted caramel popcorn with orange jelly and an orange sorbet. Each dish had many parts – and a fair few cheffy conceits. Some of the time-consuming prep (the brining/sous-vide/smoking) had been done in advance, but Mike briefly explained the processes.
He also made the foam for us using a souped-up soda siphon. The food was great (even if my delicate chocolate spiral looked like a ship’s funnel) and we all sat down and enjoyed our creations together, with some very nice wines.
What I learned
I got a good idea of the work and technical precision needed to make food of the calibre you’d expect to find in a high-end restaurant. It would take about two days to prepare a meal like this for a dinner party, and you’d either need to buy some serious kit (sous-vide bath/smoker/cream whipping siphon) or tone down the ambition a little. Personally I’d have liked a bit more scientific know-how behind the snows, gels, foams, sands and soils, but I’ll definitely use a few of the techniques again and will re-create parts of the menu when I want to impress.
The day was great fun and generally successful. Serving up three such complicated dishes was a stretch, though – it would have been good to have more time really going into the detail of one or two dishes. I’d recommend the course to ambitious cooks (rather than beginners) who want to gain insight into the processes behind high-end dining.