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Cook Books News

Why we should all take a Leith out of Prue’s book

Wow, Prue Leith is 72. I’m shocked.

For the last few years I’ve been a huge fan of The Great British Menu and, whilst not always agreeing with the judges (not that they often agree with each other), one thing I certainly would have argued the toss of a pancake over was that the rose between the two thorns was of pensionable age. Must be something about the South African sun in her native homeland, although she’s seen precious little of that whilst forging a career in cookery at all levels here in Europe for the last five decades.

Earlier this year, we honoured Oliver Peyton‘s achievements in the UK catering industry, although like Prue, he’s not a native of these shores; rather, he came here from Ireland before whipping up a storm making him qualificant for both his honour in the Queen’s birthday list and to leave his judgement beyond question on The Great British Menu panel.

If the gaunt Irishman’s assessment is felt to be not entirely accurate, there are few more qualified than Prue to call it into judgement – what a career in our industry she has had, seriously mismatched against many far less qualified who seem to have shot to fame on the small screen in recent times.

Okay, she may have started at the lower end of the corporate ladder, picking up her inaugural freelance catering gig whilst still a student at cookery school in the sixties. But the fact that she needed that one tiny opportunity to springboard her to success upon success thereafter is no surprise, in hindsight.

Relish: My Life On A Plate
Relish: My Life On A Plate
(Kindle Edition, Amazon)

She’s no one’s fool, as both Matthew and Oliver have found out on the show; but you only have to look beyond the cameras to appreciate the extent. Her association with food at educational level, as the head of School Fund Trust and the charitable campaigns she helps maintain on many fronts hosting children’s cookery classes around our septic isle and a non-profit eatery to name just two, are perhaps as accurate a reflection of her character as you’re likely to need. In her own words, the financial beneficiaries are unimportant in her activities – if she believes in a given project, she’s in, both feet first up to her waist and giving it her all.

The business woman materialises in her board memberships on both Slow Food UK and Orient Express hotels, not to mention past posts pioneering a catering business, cookery school (Leith’s School of Food & Wine), Michelin rated restaurant and having time to scribe the derived recipes into cookbooks. Oh, and those collections of haute cuisine are not her only dalliances into the world of publishing. Her autobiography has just been released in her native South Africa after being released here earlier this year, entitled Relish: My Life On A Plate, a publication sandwiched between five novels already on the bookshelves and prior to a trilogy she’s working on at present.

I suppose, when you look at a snapshot of her achievements like this, it’s neither a surprise that she’s in her seventies to have fitted it all in nor that she looks so good on it, with all of that juggling to keep her active for the last fifty years since arriving in France in her early twenties. And, yeah, perhaps picking up just a little knowhow about food along the way may have something to do with it, too…

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Cookery Courses London News

Cookery school team with Selfridges in un-shellfish display

With the odd exception, whereby cookery school’s come to you, to develop your culinary prowess you have to not only find the cookery courses you want but also make your own way there to develop the art. This weekend gone, Leiths changed all that by taking their cookery school on the road with a lesson in environmental issues as well as the kitchen.

Selfridges Food Halls are in the throws of promoting sustainable fisheries and have tagged their campaign ‘Project Ocean’, which pretty much leaves nothing to the imagination – fair play. And it was to the Oxford Street store that Leiths bundled up their cookery utensils and left the relative comfort of their Wendell Road home in London to set up stall on the famous outlet’s vast food floor.

Fishing from sustainable sources is becoming a key world environmental issue, with one report only last week suggesting that, by 2050, we will have depleted 90% of the ocean’s edible fish if we don’t start taking our responsibilities to our submarinal friends more seriously. With this in mind, Louisa and Helene, two renowned chefs from the cookery school, set about demonstrating fish and shellfish recipes to highlight just what can be achieved in the kitchen using ocean-going creatures from controlled areas.

There were plenty of shoppers willing to taste the recipes and the girls even managed to get around and inspect the offerings from other traders displaying their wares in the famous outlet’s food hall. The highlights for many interested parties were the recipes produced by the two chefs. And, let’s face it, to learn to cook fish – and their shell-encrusted cousins – is an art in itself. Two minutes too much and it’s burnt and tasteless; a little underdone or using slightly out-of-date produce and your meal-time guests are less likely to remember the hors d’oeuvres than the hors-spittle.

But the girls, drawing upon all of their cookery course experience, pulled it off a treat, using fish recipes that incorporated trout, vegetables and a drop of vino blanc ,for shellfish lovers, a potted dish using rice, prawns (and their stock) and herbs to prove that there’s more to our pink little friends than a plastic fork, polystyrene tray and drowning their taste with vinegar.

So please act now to help sustain and grow the oceans’ rapidly-depleting livestock; come 2050 and I’m in my eightieth year, I’m darned sure I’ll be needing all the cod-liver oil I can get. I just hope that there’s still a few cod left to keep me mobile. Thanks.

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Cookery Courses London News

US, The Med and two vegetarian – cookery courses, London

It is a strange fact of life, but some people do not eat meat, some through allergic or digestive reaction, but the majority through choice. And there are a lot more individuals choosing the carcass-free diet. As such, Leith’s of London are throwing two cookery courses next month to celebrate vegetarian cooking from either side of the Atlantic.

First up, we have the vegetarian cookery course from the North Americas, which will be hosted by Sarah Kearns and Marise Maddison. Given how huge the continent is and how many varied cultures they could have drawn upon to cobble this cookery course together, they have had to be brutal and cut much of the sub-culture dishes out. It will be a whistle-stop tour, indeed, all crammed into a four and a quarter hours over the lunchtime of Tuesday 17th April.

Kick off time for the cookery class is 10.15, but you can arrive up to half an hour beforehand. You will need an apron, or, if you want to spoil yourself with a new one for the occasion, Leith’s have them on sale in their shop, so no need to panic if you forget to pack your trusty old coverall. You may need to check with the cookery school what containers are required to take home any uneaten food in, if any.

An overview of the planned dishes for the cookery course Ojibwe Three Sisters Chowder, a native American dish, then we have other stop-offs with wild rice and cranberry salad from The Great Lakes, Big Apple sweet potato and carrot cake to top off nicely the greyhound tour of American cuisine.

The day after, Wednesday 18th April, we zip back this side of The Pond for a sun-soaked offering of vegetarian from The Mediterranean. Same time and place, and again Sarah and Marise take the reigns for another tour into vegetarian cooking, a little closer to home.

There are few other places in Europe where vegetables and fruits grow so big and plentiful and the girls incorporate a fair spread of hand-picked (literally) produce from vine, tree and bush to tempt us with. The menu utilises, in no particular order, red peppers and potatoes, pomegranate and pistachios and even caramelised Aubergine, again to complete a complete meal in one cookery course, drawing from vegetables, fruits and nuts of the continent.

Prices are £130 per cookery course and you can either book online for yourself or buy a gift for a friend, either veggie themselves or perhaps someone who never knows what to cook for their meat-free family. There are presently spaces available for both cookery courses at the London venue but, looking at the closer cookery classes on their schedule there are wait lists; full schedule and terms and conditions available from the Leith’s website.

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Cookery Courses London News

Raw talent required for sushi cooking course in London

It’s not very often one has to learn how to cook a meal that is served raw. But the Japanese have made an absolute art form of serving sushi and its demand is surprising considering that, fifteen years ago, had you put: “raw fish” on your pub grub menu, your punters may have thought you slightly bonkers.

Such has demand changed in recent times that one of the top London cooking schools, Leiths, have incorporated a one-off sushi cookery class into their cookery course curriculum (try saying that with a gobstopper in your mouth). To be ran on Friday May 24th, May, this one-day workshop is hosted by star of kitchen and television (it’s a wonder there are any restaurants left, these days, with the amount of time celebrity chefs spend in front of the camera, rather than the stove, hey-ho) Sachiko Saeki.

Native of Japan, where she grew up learning the art of sushi cooking in at the deep end in her parents’ restaurant, Sachiko soon familiarised herself with the world’s growing loving affair with the fascinating menu and set out to be a professional chef in the discipline in her own rite. From those early days touting her trade as a budding starlet behind a wok, she has risen to one of the most renowned chefs of the dish, even tutoring Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall on River Cottage Veg the subtleties of serving sushi.

For the cookery course at Leiths, there is combination of demo as your instruction with plenty to get your hands stuck into when you have a grasp of the basics to prepare your own sushi dishes. The dishes themselves will include learning how to produce the rolled effect common to many servings (maki), Nigiri sushi and traditional Japanese salads and sauces using authentic ingredients, which will all be weighed out in advance and then presented to you once you’ve had your meet and greet over pastries and coffee.

Whatever you have made during the morning can obviously been eaten at lunchtime, which is served with either Japanese beer or wine. If you’re only there for the practical aspect an alternative light lunch is provided where no cooking has been partaken in. Any food that you prepare after your midday break can of course be taken home afterwards.

There will be other Leiths chefs on hand, as always, and all of the ingredients, lunch and drinks are included in the price of £150 for the one-day cookery course. The only thing you need to bring is an apron, notebook and an open mind. Kick-off is at 10.15, to conclude at 14.30. The course requirements are downloadable from the Leiths’ site if you want more info; you can either book online or buy a voucher as a Valentine’s Day or Easter present for that special someone who you think may fancy a present with a difference.

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Cookery Course News

Learn how to cook bread – a right pain

I apologise profusely in advance for the amount of buns puns that are going to be in this article, but learning how to cook bread just lends itself to giving the rise.

But, as this is a staple component of many a culture, from the Lord tempting the Israelites to cross the Desert of Sin en route to Sinai by raining down manna from heaven to the celebration of Holy Communion to this day with unleavened bread and the spiritual holiday of yeaster, this is a biblical side dish of much renown.

However, Leith’s School of Food & Wine, London, are offering a one-off cookery class this summer to learn how to cook bread in different styles from the continent, just in time to use your loaf on holiday and impress the locals with your knowledge of their local bread.

Unlike many cookery courses which require you to have a camper van full of equipment before you can even bread roll enrol, all that is required of the budding bread chef for this four and a half hour course is an apron and a notebook and you’re set – everything else is supplied.

The cookery class looks to pack in plenty of variety to enable you, once completed, to be able to perfect the art of bread-baking in several languages!

From a Gaelic fruit soda bread recipe to a base Italian offering which should be a pizza cake, you next move on to biga things as you experiment in French and further Italian textured breads to complete the European tour.

It’s not all hands-on; when you arrive there is coffee and pastries as you meet your fellow students, but after that you dough get a minute (yeah, you probably have to be from The Black Country to get that one) as you get stuck in to the lesson.

Each slice of the action will be in the form of a demo, then you get to have a go with the ingredients that are weighed out for you for each recipe – they really do supply all you knead.

Mid-lesson, there’s a breather when wine is served to go with the food that you’ve prepared up to that point, I guess to toast your success so far, and then it’s into the afternoon session to complete the cookery class.

Any food not consumed during the course of the lesson you’re free to take home with you if you couldn’t eat the whole meal, as well as a recipe booklet as a souvenir to help you replicate your expertise time and again just in case you don’t crust trust yourself to remember each lesson. If you’ve not bought anything to carry the surplus home, don’t worry; I’m sure Leith’s will baguette for you.

It’s a pitta, but I’ve not been on this cookery course; however, my naan reckoned that this essential lesson in cooking was, well, the best thing since sliced bread.

At time of writing, there were still places available; further details on Leith’s School of Food & Wine’s website.

Last updated on January 11, 2012