Muddy reviews Lainston House's super-whizzy Season Cookery School.
I love cooking; I learnt from my mamma and now I want to teach my daughter. Unfortunately, though, mum’s tolerance to mess has not found its way into my DNA.
The flour-filled kitchen; the hungry, marauding younger sibling; the inevitable strong-willed mother/pre-pubescent daughter clash… all this means that my 8-year-old Bbell and I rarely cook together, but with Bake Off being her second favourite TV-treat (trumped by Strictly obvs, team Gemma all the way), it’s time for a change.
The school is based in Lainston’s converted Well House; all wooden beams, exposed brick-work and a 92-metre deep well. Prepare yourself for reverse vertigo as it is visible, but fully covered so no falling in after a glass of wine or two. In the rafters, you can still see the driving gear where donkeys once winched water to the surface.
On to the kitchen with its slick, white units, sculptural extractor fans and blond, wooden beams.
No points for guessing that I class cooking as a high-stress activity. Whether it’s tea-time with children arguing and baying for food; or dinner parties with that juggle between kids bed-time, monitoring the soufflé and going-easy on the G&Ts before guests arrive. *Fail. Every time*
Today, however, was zen with a horizontal ‘z’.
Our teacher, ex-Lainston Chef Sylvain Gachot, was relaxed, fun and all about encouraging us, the kids especially, to create food that we love. There were recipes and techniques to follow, but when it came to spices and flavour, veering off piste was positively celebrated.
Bbell was shy at first, but quickly gained confidence laughing, kneading and piping fondant — her face all smiles, pride and melted chocolate.
On the menu
It changes, but today we made chicken curry (my girl’s favourite, by happy chance), naan, rice pilau and chocolate fondant.
A dad with his twelve-year-old son, sent by mum to extend their repertoire beyond cottage pie — lots of joking, taking it all with a huge pinch of sea- salt, then building in confidence and feeling genuine pride in their finished curry. Elsewhere, we had a mum with her teenage son. For all of us, the one-on-one bonding time with our kids was equally as important as cooking skills learnt.
Generally, the school takes seven-year-olds and upwards. Any younger than that and they can’t reach the stove-top.
What to expect?
Sylvain gave a demo before each course: knife skills, kneading, toasting spices and so on.
Then it was over to us, but with lots of help from the chef and his assistant, Sue, giving pro-tips on how to hold the whisk and why you need to fry-off tomato paste (clue: to ramp-up the tomatoes’ sweetness and dial-down the unpleasant, metallic tinned tang).
The atmosphere was friendly, jokey… relaxed, relaxed, relaxed; zero high-octane, hell’s kitchen faff.
The whole experience was wonderfully tactile: we measured, mixed, and sliced our own ingredients. Bbell loved choosing which spices to put in the curry: cumin, cardamon, turmeric and bay leaves. Mouth. Watering.
And to end? We sat on a long table, enjoyed our masterpiece with a glass of white for the olds.
When chopping an onion, don’t chop the root.
Wrap dough thoroughly when it’s proofing so the top doesn’t crust over and stop it rising.
Fresh yeast is best for bread making — ask in bakers or supermarkets with their own bakery.
The school also runs adult and corporate days as well, covering everything from Thai, Malaysian & Moroccan cookery, via soufflé masterclasses and making your own gifts.
Season Cookery School, Lainston House, Woodman Ln, Sparsholt, Winchester SO21 2LT