Is taking to the kitchen the activity of choice for a grand retreat? Specialist cookery courses top the agenda at these three British boltholes
Lime Wood, New Forest
I manage to last a full 20 minutes before I let slip that my family is from Naples, the spiritual home of pizza. “The stuff is in your blood!” chef Iain Longhorn teases. Tossing dough and wielding a pizza shovel should be second nature, he adds, as we gather around the front bench for a demonstration on rolling our bases. Fortunately, there’s no throwing on the agenda today.
The bite-sized cookery courses here – smoking hot salmon or sausage session anyone? – aren’t geared towards the show-off breed of budding chef. Designed to give a taster of what goes on behind the scenes at the hotel’s restaurant, where Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder man the stove, the hour-long classes are about home cooking, simple ingredients and fun – and end with a tasting session (and a beer), around the communal table.
Classes are hands-on and small (there are just five of us when I visit), with Iain encouraging us to get stuck in straight away after an introduction on the dough and pizzaiola sauce making procedures. He dishes out pearls of wisdom – “always buy Italian tinned tomatoes” – as he does the rounds, and there’s plenty of time to ask questions. We reconvene to talk toppings. There’s an oozing slab of taleggio, wilted spinach with garlic and roasted peppers submerged in extra virgin olive oil. “More is more,” Iain shouts as I add an extra hunk of ’nduja sausage for good measure. Nonna would be proud.
The Instinctive Cook
With its own sprawling kitchen garden, seasonal menus take on fresh and literal meaning at Thyme. This class focuses on ingredients rather than recipes – and teachers Marjorie Lang (a former Masterchef winner), and Daryll Taylor are patient and knowledgeable in equal measure. Since I’m the type more likely to successfully slice a finger than a vegetable, this The Good Life focus is fine with me. Just call me Barbara.
In the summer, the course might start with a trip to pick herbs, tomatoes and root vegetables, but what dish your harvest ends up in will depend on Daryll and Marjorie’s whim (in my case, beetroot and ricotta gnocchi, followed by cherry tart). The full-day class certainly begs for an overnight stay... not that an excuse is really needed for the most stylish bedrooms and cottages to be found on Cotswolds’ rolling eastern edge.
Spanish Style Cuisine
Lucknam Park, Cotswolds
Chef Ben Taylor’s method of running a kitchen suits me down to the ground. Each pristine work station is prepared Blue Peter style with cling-filmed bowls of ingredients laid out for our small group of four. As a relatively inexperienced cook (I only recently made my first lasagne), I start the all-day tapas course a little hesitantly. But the charming Taylor, who originally joined Lucknam Park as sous chef in its Michelin-starred The Park restaurant, immediately makes me feel at ease.
He demonstrates each of the five dishes beforehand, whether it’s decadently cheesy Iberico ham croquettas or the Spanish staple of patatas bravas, and ensures that no one feels like they’re asking stupid questions. “How do you cut an onion?” is one of mine, but Taylor shows me how to professionally dice one in a split second. After gutting and stuffing squid with chorizo and piping puffy churros (surprisingly easy), we sit down to enjoy our hard work with a glass of wine.
Whether you choose to bake bread, decorate Easter eggs or serve up Michelin-starred meals, Taylor’s cookery school guarantees you’ll be throwing the best dinner parties in town.