The school room is far more ‘Aga shop’ than professional kitchen in feel. I am instantly struck with kitchen envy. We join the rest of the class at the long table for heart-starting coffees and introductions. We are a mixed bag: a serial Seafood School groupie (he’s been coming for years) friends, lovers and food lovers alike. With or without a plus one, you will pair up (or be paired). Don’t let this put you off. Keith, our senior lecturer, handles the potentially awkward stage with professional ease.
Lesson one is seated, semi-circular style on bar stools around Keith’s workstation. Overhead screens project on the wall behind, Blue Peter style. We are given the basic safety lessons; don’t run with knives, wash your hands – as well as a quick round up of how our course will pan out. The folders we each have are laid out with impeccable care and thought. We are encouraged to scribble notes and ask questions. Keith takes us through stocks, blonde and dark; prepping a beef stock in the background at the same time. Our recipe summary for both days breaks down to two starters, one main, and one pudding. To kick start day one, we are watching Keith prepping, de-shelling and grilling scallops.
One man’s shellfish fear is another man’s risotto panic. It soon becomes clear that as a foodie group, some have confidence where others fear to tread. I lived in trepidation of live shellfish (or how to be sure it’s not dead) and Béarnaise sauce. Both phobias dealt with over the two days. My wingman, an unyielding note taker may have initially been preoccupied with weights and measures, but sprung (literally) into action when presented with any marine life. Fish is clearly a boy-bonder. Much chat on sea lice, fillet knives, pin bones and the price of turbot. Note: the little black rubbery bit in a scallop shell is in fact a protein and not a muscle.
There’s a lot of butter, a lot of double cream, one hell of a lot of salt, fabulous locally sourced ingredients and a whole heap of professional knowledge to boot. As the group bonds, our anxiety fades. No question is too ludicrous. Tips are swapped, techniques are shared. The group rallies when it comes to egg boiling. We are told a truly wild mushroom cannot be bought in a supermarket. We learn to spot a Chanterelle from a Cep. We know that the best place to forage is on a runway and that good wild mushroom dealers are few and far between.
We’d been warned to hold back on the tastings. TK and I failed to notice that we had eaten our scallop ‘starter for four’ – each. That’s eight scallops for breakfast an hour before lunch (and that elusive wild mushroom risotto somewhere in between). High spirits around the lunch table are helped by far from modest glasses of delicious wines.
By the time Stuart, our executive pastry chef takes over to teach us the art of Semi-freddo and brandy snaps, booze fuelled confidence has struck the class. TK is hung up on the lack of ‘torrone’ (almond nougat) in our almond brittle equivalent. I man handle a baking tray of liquid caramel, try to brush off my third degree burns end up with hand in bowl of ice, finger and thumb blistering with aplomb. Have to hand over executive control of workstation, semi-freddo and brandy snaps to wingman.
Day two: British camaraderie kicks in. We are a team of foodies, we already have history together, we’ve shared triumphs and commiserated in clarified butter. The boys rally in excitement at an enormous salmon (farmed, you can tell by the shape of the tail) and this morning we all get a go with a fillet knife. I have less interest in the Jerusalem artichoke soup than TK, but deny soup sabotage. Spoiled by James, chef de partie, who turns down gas hobs, stirs sauces and delivers perfectly prepped ingredients without blinking, I had (wrongly) assumed the artichokes were prewashed. Our soup, with shredded spring onions, chilli and crispy bits was boastfully gritty.
Fore-ribs of beef create a smoky haze of Sunday lunch deliciousness. Keith (struck by our cumulative class enthusiasm) lets us all get to grips with the Béarnaise. James is on hand with ours needless to say, but it doesn’t split.
Turning out a perfect chocolate fondant to the team, Stuart was more than a little taken by (delighted) surprise at the literal whoops of joy from his new best friend in the audience. Whoever thought a perfectly moulded brandy snap basket would be the way to a boy’s heart?
- A fabulous Christmas present idea for the foodie in your life … courses for 2012 start on 29 January with the Original Fish & Shellfish Cookery Course £195.
- Updated course calendar dates for 2012 are online now.