Like a nervous, yet excited child going to class at a new school, I arrived at Northcote in the Ribble Valley with a certain amount of trepidation, which seemed absolutely ridiculous.
Greeted at the entrance to the Louis Roederer Rooms by Barrett, a very personable host, I was invited in to meet the group that I would be spending the day with. Everyone was friendly and we were soon chatting away whilst muesli and coffee were served. I thought it was a nice personal touch when Craig Bancroft, Managing Director at Northcote, came in and introduced himself.
Shortly after, Head Tutor Michael Vanheste arrived and took us through to the kitchen, where we met Head Chef Lisa Allen, who we all recognised from her winning appearance on the Great British Menu. Lisa was extremely down to earth and seemed genuinely happy to show us around and chat to us about how things operated in the Northcote kitchen.
There was a great vibe amongst the kitchen team, and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised that everyone seemed calm (unlike my misguided preconceptions that there would be arms flailing and people shouting like madmen).
Once we were inside the Northcote Cookery School kitchen with Michael at the helm, my mild nerves had eased and I was starting to feel reassuringly at home. Everything in the kitchen was state-of-the-art and of the highest quality, with the Gaggenau ovens being the most impressive appliances I had ever seen.
To begin, Michael ran through the menu. I must confess, I thought it was rather ambitious for a room full of wannabe cooks to manage in a day!
Ham and Cheese Beignet
Potted Shrimp Toast, Smoked Salmon, Lemon and Chervil Mayonnaise
Breast of Goosnargh Chicken, Goats Cheese Stuffing, Cracked Wheat
Banana and Madagascan Vanilla Brulée
However, once Michael started his demonstrations, I felt more confident. He made everything look so simple and effortless. Then it was our turn. I actually quite surprised myself as I sailed through without too many glitches, apparently over whipping the cream is an easy mistake to make, clearly I didn’t know my own strength! Oh and did I mention two minor finger cuts? But other than that…everything went swimmingly, which, believe me, is pretty impressive given my clumsiness.
Michael’s demonstrations were precise and clear, and the only criticism that we could find throughout the entire day was that sometimes we struggled to see the consistency of what he was mixing in the bowl. It was suggested that an overhead camera was used, but they had already got it covered and were in the process of installing one. OK, so they literally have thought of everything here. Even down to the printed name stickers to put on the food that we had prepared before it went in the fridge.
One of the things I loved about the course was that all the ingredients were already measured out for us and any equipment we needed was laid out in advance. Jenny was also on hand to help tidy up and ensure that everything ran smoothly. We were all very impressed with the mysterious cleaning pixie that tended to our dirty pots and pans!
Being the perfect tutor, Michael kept everyone engaged and also helped us to understand the technical processes of cooking and why certain techniques are used. I found this quite fascinating, I’m pretty sure I was never this attentive at school – oh for Mr Vanheste to have replaced my sour–faced Domestic Science teacher (who shall remain nameless) at secondary school; I could have been a Michelin star chef by now. Michael’s passion was contagious.
I thought it was a good idea to prepare our dishes but not actually cook them so that we could take them home and enjoy them at a later date. This also meant that we would have the opportunity to dine at Northcote and sample the lunch menu. The Seared Scottish Salmon with Potato and Onion, and Wild Garlic was light and vibrant and perfect for a light lunch. But it was the Chilled Vanilla Rice Pudding, Alphonso Mango, Sorbet and Basil that got me even more excited. An explosive fusion of flavours was enhanced by its unique textures, creating possibly my all-time favourite pudding.
The dining room is elegant and sleek, with views of the garden and the Ribble Valley countryside beyond. Michael also joined us for lunch, once again, a nice touch.
Back in the kitchen, we continued to prepare our dishes before we sampled the end products that Michael had cooked. Everything tasted wonderful and each course complemented the one before it. I found myself returning to the Potted Shrimp Toast and Goosnargh Chicken when I thought no-one was looking, embarrassingly I was spied by Michael!
The man himself, Nigel Haworth, popped in to say hello to us. You could see that it was much appreciated by the group that he took the time to introduce himself and have a quick chat.
We also enjoyed afternoon tea with delicious scones, jam and cream. I loved the combination of cooking and eating.
I can honestly say, I didn’t have any negative feedback about my day at Northcote Cookery School, and I am eager to try my hand at one of the other courses. The pace was spot on, the demonstrations were excellent and the organisation was faultless. I look forward to tasting my dishes and trying my new skills out on unsuspecting friends and family.