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Cookery School News

French chef and ex-Platt at food festival 2012

If it’s award winners and celebrity chefs that float your boat when it comes to cookery courses then you could be in worse places than Accrington in a fortnight’s time for the Lancashire Food Festival 2012.

Over the weekend of 14th and 15th April Accrington Town Hall will pay homage to everything tip top about from food from up t’North, including the chance to see what all the fuss is with The Saddleworth Cheese Co and why Sean Wilson is now hanging about with cheese buffs rather than buff cheeses on The Street after 21 years as the hapless Martin Platt on Corrie.

No disrespect to David’s on-screen step-dad as was, but the big cheese headlining the festival on Sunday 15th is celebrated chef Jean-Christophe Novelli (the good lady wife is already gaga with anticipation of putting her flour in his hands) of television fame, not to mention his business empire which incorporates cookery schools and exclusive restaurants, which helped launch his career to earn him the nickname of the UK’s ‘favourite French Chef’.

Jean-Christophe’s career is exceptional. After leaving his native France in 1983 to make the short trip across La Manche, he spent a year as head chef of The Maltsters, a public house ran by Keith Floyd; Jean-Christophe took a hold of the reins whilst Keith was off shooting his TV shows, a path that the French chef would follow himself in years to come.

It wasn’t until thirteen years after his arrival on our shores that he would open his first London restaurant in Clerkenwell, Maison Nouvelli, swiftly followed by another three in the capital, culminating in Les Saveurs in Mayfair. Although making the UK his base over the last three decades, Jean-Christophe hasn’t neglected his home nation, France, on his way to an amazing four Michelin Stars and 5 AA Rosettes for quality establishments.

It is perhaps his masterclasses that keep everything fresh for the much-travelled chef; in his own words, they are his home, heart and life. Many of his cookery courses are demonstrations, but there hands-on events, too. The full list of cookery masterclasses is available at his personal website, where you can browse through cooking courses such as a Taste of the Med, drawing on locally-bred ingredients that give the dishes their unique flavour.

No doubt there’ll be much more at the Food Festival next month and he is fitting in a quick half-an-hour book-signing alongside his other duties, but the website does advise patience as they expect a bit more of a queue for the chef who became a celebrity through his French plaits, rather than the celebrity Platt who became a chef through his fromage.

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Cookery Class News

Surely tea is for the teapot, not the stew pot?

Cynthia Gold, former sommelier at Park Plaza, is to take charge in a similar role at L’Espalier in order to emphasise its own fantastic tea menu. In a recent e-mail interview, Gold spared some time for Eater to share her envisaged role and give us a sneak preview into how they’re going to develop their own house blends and expand dishes and cocktails all in a cookery masterclass with the star ingredient: tea!

The first task for the purpose of this article is to perhaps introduce the idea of cooking with tea to an English audience. And we’re not just talking different ways of serving it in the afternoon, such as do we put the milk in first or second? or do we favour a shortbread or Garibaldi first? We’re talking proper alcoholic cocktails and real food with tea as a solid ingredient, either as the base or infused at some point during this most refreshing of cookery classes.

There is a popular school of thought that cooking with tea can overpower other ingredients that going into making the meal itself. Like any recipe that is deemed a success, it is all about getting the correct balance of ingredients. Tea is no different, especially when it comes to forming the base of an alcoholic beverage. Weird? Well not when you think about how popular Pernod and Ouzo are, and they have aniseed at their bases, so perhaps we could all learn something about a cookery class that teaches us about brewing up bevvy that incorporates an ingredient that is so very English.

To understand a little bit more about how one learns to infuse tea to make varieties of sangria, salt-rimmed shots where the crystalline edge has been smoked in tea or for your homebrew bitter, it is perhaps worth knowing what exactly a sommelier is and how one gets to become one.

The original masters in the art of the tea sommelier are relatively new, when you consider how long the stuff has actually been drank by the gallon as part of the afternoon tiffing regime of the old Empire Britannia. Gold was the only chef amongst the original set and so it seemed a very natural progression for her to learn to cook tea in different ways.

She sees two things in the leaves about her future. Firstly, at L’Espalier, a subsidiary menu of rare teas will accompany the existing menu which draws upon their estate teas in a combination of both savoury and sweet dishes from their kitchens. In the background, Cynthia is putting her head together with Canadian, British and French ambasadors for the industry to produce a multi-national certificate in recognition of the art of becoming an accomplished tea chef and the necessary background studies to achieve this standardisation.

Mmm, it may take the UK public some convincing to take tea with anything other than milk or sugar – we’ve never really taken to popping lemon into it, so Tea-kka Masala? You’ve got your work cut out, Cynthia.

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Cookery Class News

Masterclass in cooking apprenticeship

Learning to cook, in a way that will endorse recognition of your skill, is not easy. Even the very best acknowledge the work involved, from day one, to achieve greatness in the kitchen.

Marco Pierre White recently visited Greene King brewery to relate tales of his initial struggle for success, going from cleaning shoes, borrowing 50p bus fare from his father, a chef himself, to begin his illustrious career at the best restaurant in London. For the nine apprentices involved in the Greene King cookery course, this was a master class of the highest order.

Let your passion drive you

If you start to let questions like ‘what will my wages be?’ or ‘what are the hours?’ stand in your way, your probably not going to make it.
True greatness comes from focus of the job in hand, letting that be your only concern. That’s difficult to get your head around with the way the economy is stacked against that philosophy, but dedication will out. Sacrifices are called for every step of the way on the ladder to mastering the kitchen.

Class on your doorstep

When you’re first starting out, the road ahead seems long and tortuous – whatever aspects you can tick off your ‘to do’ sheet in the early stages is crucial to success.
Two of the key elements to establish this positive outlook are find the right establishment, and make it local:

    1. if the restaurant you’re working for is renowned, they will only employ top chefs in order to uphold their reputation, so you will be learning to cook from the best.
    2. having the establishment on your doorstep allows flexibility, not necessarily having to rely on transport (cutting your outgoings) and being able to get there in a flash if needed.

Forget the past – this is a new dawn

Hands-on experience is great, but you also need qualifications if you aspire to making it on your own, one day.
Once you’ve positioned yourself as best you can, see if the employer will allow you to go on day release to college, or has tailored cookery courses of their own which they’ll actively encourage you to attend.
This is where it goes back to your flexibility and willingness – if you show them talent and determination, they will do what they can to ensure you realise your potential as an investment in their business.

Get instant gratification and feedback

Great cooking is one of the few jobs where you can be judged there and then. If you’ve prepared a wonderful meal, your critics will let you know by what’s left on the plate.
Feedback is as important as any inherited skill – it not only can build your confidence, but also provides pointers as to where your own strengths lie in the cooking industry.

It’s all give and take

Cooks develop over time, picking up different styles from the variety of chefs for whom they’ll work.

Once you’re established, it will be your turn to become the Yoda to your own Jedis. Use your force to pass down what you have learnt on the way to success.

Cooking is very much a two way street and definitely a 9-5 career. Food is a marvellous tool to allow you to be creative and instantly impress your employers and your clients, alike.

With hard work, flexibility and an inner determination to succeed, ignoring the naysayers but accepting constructive criticism as it comes, you will succeed and be able to provide a masterclass of your own.