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Cookery courses to the fore in team-building events

We’ve mentioned it a fair bit this year, but the traditional team-building events, whilst still very much available, are now more health and safety conscious than ever. I can’t imagine that the scree-running, abseiling and pot-holing we did in Bryntysilio would feature very highly on the HSE-friendly to-do list, these days.

A much safer way of bonding the workforce is to get them into the kitchen, where even the majority of appliances, these days, are practical and safe. Well, I wouldn’t call some of the ingredients my wife cobbles together safe, but you know what I mean? Mm, I wonder if Lloyds TSB are thinking of running any team-building cookery courses?

And that leads me nicely into today’s topic…
…I was talking to James Coakes whilst portending another hat I wear and he mentioned that he’d organised a troupe off on a jolly as a works’ team building event to a restaurant. Standard fare, I thought. But then he happened to mention that it was also a cooking class in…wait for it…

Now, you all know that I’m a healthy eating lad, but my one Achilles Heel – and I think it’s to replace the beer since hip surgery last year – is chocolate. And we used to end up orienteering through fields of cows in a musty-smelling Welsh forest? I’m sorry, Wales, but you know that ‘fine Welsh mud’ that happy couple (obviously on Prozak) were washing off their bike wheels in your promo ad – you can keep it!

Anyway, I digress. This is how far this type of networking, company-socialising pastime has come. No longer is it down entirely to the individual cookery schools to try to snare the attention of people looking for cookery courses online, there are team-building companies incorporating them into their menu.

James’ company’s called the teambuilding company (funnily enough) and as well as the chocolate team-building cookery course he offers, there’s a Chinese affair, entitled Team Wok – and that’s the name of the company, not a slogan James or his associates have dreamed up – as well as Sumptuous Sushi, Cocktail-making (boy, did I used to think I was Tom Cruise in my bar-tender days…definitely more of a Bryan Brown character, these days?) and a Cuisine-Team event.  All but one of the Rocket Restaurants venues, host for the  lessons in how to make chocolate, is in London so if you can’t make the Nottingham restaurant, it’s a trip down to The Smoke, so your staff will at least feel like they’ve had a night out and a chance to glug some of the petty cash in London, as only the best staff does.

So, if you’re a company boss and not sure about how a weekend trekking in the Welsh Hills is going to go down with your staff, why not try cookery courses next time your planning to get your employees to bond?

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Cookery courses could incorporate FoodCycle

This is just a though, right – yes, before you say it, I did position myself over something soft when I felt it coming on – but FoodCycle and cookery courses across the country could literally do not only our young folk a massive favour, but also all of those who’d love to learn to cook but find that the price of the average cookery class is just a little bit beyond their reach.

Now, I’m not saying that the average cookery class is over priced by any stretch of the imagination.  When you think of the prep time involved for each class (kitchens, calendars, guest chefs, advertising), the chefs themselves, their expertise and the liability insurance costs involved with opening up their premises, especially with all of those sharp, hot, boiling objects just waiting to go in the accident book, you can see why they charge what they do.  And that’s before you consider the cost of the ingredients themselves.  It’s just that with the current financial climate and austerity measures hitting home more and more every month, the average family budget may not stretch to a few cookery classes, even if the proven long term benefits suggest that families may actually save cash and eat more healthily by learning to cook fresh.

Now, this is where the whole thesis of my bright idea kicks in – hang on, I need a couple more paracetamol…ah, that’s better.  Now, where was I?  Yes, my spark.

The cost of food all through the chain, from originating countries demanding higher (or just fair) wages, to transport costs, to fodder for the animals and the rise in petroleum taking its toll on plastic packaging (believe me, I know where I’m coming from), has risen far in excess of inflation, hence at a lot greater rate than the average salary in the UK.  And the food is a very real cost incorporated in the price of your cookery school fees, especially if you’re taking on a three- or four-course meal in your given class.

This is where FoodCycle could well and truly come in, if only there was a mediator to bring the two together.  Set up a FoodCycle group or brand purely designated to design cookery courses and recipes around the most common food-stuffs thrown away by supermarkets at the end of every shift and find a cookery school willing to take the chance of staking their reputation on using said food, rather than purport simply to offer cookery classes in the art of exotic cuisine and/or fine dining.

Join me tomorrow when I bring this earth-shattering idea of mine to a logical conclusion – c’mon, I’ve had the thought and written the theory behind it in one day…what do you want, blood?

See you bright and early in the morning for part deux. Keep in touch with yourself, now. xxx

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UK finals of Young Chef and Young Sommelier this week

Today is the final of the Young Chef of the Year Award for the hospitality trade as nominated by Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. Earlier this month, the finalists for the UK section of the international competition were announced as well as those for Young Sommelier of the Year Award, which takes place on Thursday at London’s Gaggenau Showrooms.

But first, back to the Young Chef UK final heat. Twelve names have gone into the hat from fine dining establishments from right across the country. They will have to prepare a three-course meal not knowing what tools they have to work with as all of the ingredients will come from a market basket that is being kept secret until the final itself, taking place in Worthy Down. All of their past cookery class knowledge will be put to the test in this one-off cook-off event.

The finalists will have to impress a select panel of judges, which will not only includes names from renowned terra firma eating establishments but also the development chef from P&O cruises, Hayden Davies. No doubt the idea behind having a P&O representative on the panel is to snap up talent to sail the seven seas and look after their customers who have come to expect nothing but the best, over the years.  From the shortlist, there should be more than enough who qualify and, let’s face it, are there many better ways to see the world than when you’re young and in demand?

Hayden will have to be patient, though. The winner of the UK final, a prestigious enough accolade in its own rite, will then head off to Berlin for the International Final in September.

Likewise, for the Sommelier of the Year Award, there will be a dozen finalists, but the three-stage competition will have a slightly different feel as the judges will play an active part in the final. As well as demonstrating their knowledge of alcohol, in all its forms, the finalists will have to role play with the judges, identifying which wines are recommended for which dish, champagne service etiquette and inter-acting with the judge to be assessed on their professionalism when dealing with customers. It really is an all-round competition that the youngsters will have to go through.

The competitors in both finals will have to wait around a week or so to see who’s won as the victor of each will be announced at the Dorchester Hotel on June 20th in a special presentation dinner.

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The next tool to fight C.O.D. – fine dining

Compulsive Obsessive Disorder has become a byword, or a branch of psychotherapy, that is having a lot of eggs thrown into its basket since being coined as a condition with mileage and brought to prominence by the likes of TV psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses.

His Channel Four show, The Hoarder Next Door, highlights just one those eggs – the secret hoarders of Great Britain, as the name suggests. The figure is so vast, popular theory is that from next year it will be a branch of neuroses in its own rite. Recent estimates put the number of people suffering with the condition in the UK at around 3,000,000, which, coincidentally, has been the approximate viewing figure for the show this Spring. You’re surprised? So are Channel Four, but in the nicest possible way. Perhaps it is just the hoarders watching, burning the shows onto DVD and storing them next to all of their other possessions ‘in case they might come in useful for something later’.

But what the devil has all this got to do with cookery courses and fine dining?

Stelios, rapidly becoming one of the most recognised therapists on TV, is of the firm opinion that the disorder is self-feeding. The urge to collect nick-nacks, jumble, newspapers or not throw out old clothes, shoes and bags that will never be worn again (are you listening, my Da Wife?) takes priority and diet becomes neglected. The lack of nutrition, a common theme with sufferers, not only serves to deprive the body of essential vitamins, minerals, carbs and protein but the mind too, funnelling the hoarders obsession. By extracting them from this self-indulgent spiral (which is more than likely subconscious) and catapulting the patients into a festival of fine dining for their taste buds, they are lifted from the hum-drum that may well have been the catalyst that allowed the disorder to take a grip so powerfully in the first instance.

Stelios’ friendship with restaurateur Andreas Antona, owner of Michelin-rated Simpsons in Edgbaston, Birmingham, where the TV therapist is based, kick-started Stelios theory that good food = good mood. And, just like the cookery schools that run the cookery courses on our home page, Stelios takes a whole heap of, what to the untrained eye looks like, haphazard ingredients, does his magic with them and returns an end result that is much more palatable. And it works.

Tantalising anyone’s taste buds is a gift and will instantly lift their mood. And that’s the way Stelios views therapy – as an artform, as well as a treatment that has its base roots firmly implanted in scientific research. And Antona agrees and welcomes the cookery classes that find their way to his kitchens.

He goes on to explain that cookery, likewise an art, takes 100% focus to perfect. For the time they’re learning to cook interesting and different recipes that are anything but the processed meals for one (or for a family, if the rest of the household are unlucky enough to have a hoarder in charge of the menu) they usually subject themselves to, they start to see the pattern and interact with other students.

The cookery classes are just like the warm up and, when the sufferers are primed, Stelios and his team takes over to really get to the root cause of the issue (in total confidentiality) and work with the patient to find a way out of the clutter-packed wilderness, whilst nibbling away on the amazing food they’ve just prepared. Et voila. The treatment can begin.

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Ordering your ingredients on social media platforms

Social media – love it or hate it, it’s a massive component of our everyday lives. If you’re not on facebook, you have a Google Plus account; if you’re not LinkedIn, you tweet. As the Internet becomes more accessible, with the latest 7″ tablets now more powerful and with more connectivity than a whopping desktop you may have bought as little as long as a year ago, it’s no wonder we’re online more and more often.

In other areas of the hospitality trade, breweries are now offering training courses, front of house for bar staff, cookery courses for chefs and managerial courses for tenants, through a medium they hope will entice the brightest from the crop of today’s school leavers – Internet portals. So it’s perhaps no wonder that suppliers to the trade are now investigating this avenue as a means to reach a bigger market place.

It’s not new. QVC has long since been a purveyor of fine quality meats, with cooking demonstrations over the air waves, meaning that you could order from the TV and, subsequently, from their website and even now through an iPhone app. The advantage a TV shopping channel has had in the past is being able to see how the meats were prepared so that there was confidence in ordering. But now, with advances in online technology, social media is getting in on the act, too.

Of all the platforms online, you’d think that Twitter is the least likely way to get your message across that you have carcasses, poultry and even fish to sell, but one such company that is optimising the niche is Marky Market, a personal meat shopper for the inhabitants of the Capital.

His day starts as any other supplier of meat in London’s would with a trip down to Smithfield Market. Using the underground, with a trolley packed with ice blocks to keep the meat as fresh as when it’s laid out on the stalls, he picks up the meat he has his orders for. Due to the volumes needed to secure the best price, it is oft the case that there is surplus in his trolley once the deliveries have been made.

It’s then back to the Soho office, sometimes with a slight meander to Billingsgate Fish Market, too, to sell the residual stock. Simple Tweets (within the 140 character limit) are usually enough to clear him out, packed, wrapped and delivered to the Tweeter’s door.

It’s a satisfying combination for both Marky Market and the online customer, whether it is a hostelry for their pub menu, a cookery school for the next day’s classes or an individual who knows what to do with am Old spot or Wild Boar sausage. Or, indeed, whatever surplus that day’s outing has left him with.

As reputations build on facebook pages, followers on Twitter and within the circles of Google Plus, buying your ingredients online is not only a trending way to do it, but could well be the future of meat shopping, especially in the capital if you don’t fancy being up at the crack of dawn yourself to get the best cuts, yourself.  Or, if you just fancy tweeting yourself, every now and again. (so sorry! had to be done)

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Cordon Vert Cookery School vegetarian cook-off final won

And so we approach the end of Vegetarian Week, which has been a huge success, by all accounts. And none would have felt success more than Gary Ashley, the winner of this year’s Chef of the Future award, announced by Cordon Vert, the Vegetarian Society’s cookery school earlier this month.

The criteria for the finalists was twofold. First and foremost, the competition entrants had to produce a three course menu that would be both appetising and palatable for vegetarians and/or vegans. Once the shortlist was drawn up for the final, the three savvy chefs chosen would then have to prepare those meals in a live cook-off event on the 9th May at The Vegetarian Society in Altrincham.

As Gary was from Southampton, he had to make sure that the trip up to Cheshire was worth while, especially having made the same journey to the cookery school last year, only to finish runner up on that occasion. Therefore, he knew the level of talent he’d be cooking against and that the ingredients he used would have to be wide ranging, complementary and enough to get even a hearty meat-eaters taste buds tingling.

The starter alone would have taken the layman a term of cookery courses to put together; it infused a mixture of tapas that you would be hard-pushed to find anything like, strolling along the coastline of Torviscas Playa, and was a galaxy of tastes, including wild mushroom and sweet potato beefed up with a sprinkle of cumin to name just two of the servings on offer. Certainly not your Spanish locale tapas, for sure.

The main course, however, did incorporate a taste of The Med. Vegetables from the region were combined with cous cous, spinach and roast pepper and even a coriander fritter alongside fruit and nuts to contrast the bitter tasting veg. Then he prepared not just one but three desserts, again combining tastes yet varying texture to wow the judges and cement his first prize.

After the event, Ashley said the award was “the most prestigious accolade of [his] career”, an award that was given based upon, according to Cordon Vert Cookery School’s principle tutor, Alex Connell, everything that the judges were looking for. Not only were the tastes and textures impressive, but also the “care, skill and attention to detail” Ashley put in only went to prove how exciting vegetarian meals can be and also how presentable they are, when imagination and experience come together to create such a winning dish.

For his pains, Ashley is now entitled to a cookery course at Cordon Vert to the tune of £1,500, which is taught up to the nationally recognised Professional Diploma standard. He also takes away his own set of Cordon Vert embroidered whites, the Chef of the Future 2012 title and a bottle of champagne to toast his success.

For the runners-up, Olivia West and Natasha Koncewicz, they now have the experience to go one better for the 2013 event. As Gary proved, knowledge is king and the girls now have an insight into just what it takes to win this coveted vegetarian cookery course award.

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