In 2014, mid divorce and feeling like I needed some new hobbies in my life, I made a very good decision: I started volunteering with the cookery school and charity Cracking Good Food.
I’ve always loved the look of the courses they offer – they were unusual and intrigued me – Nepalese – Japanese – elderflower foraging – pasta making. Volunteering would be a way of learning for free and a great opportunity to meet interesting, foodie people.
So I signed up and oh my! have I learnt a lot. In the last eighteen months these are just a few of the courses I’ve helped on:
Indian born, Neha grew up being taught to cook by her family. I’ve done this course twice and the food is an incredible combination of spicy, yet gentle and wholesome – you feel comforted and soothed by this delicious food. Neha herself is part of the charm of this class – she is a wonderfully sweet and caring young woman, clucking around the class, making sure everyone is okay and explaining and demonstrating whenever help is needed. The class culminates in a massive feast at lunchtime of dhal, spinach paneer, okra marsala and parathas (a gorgeous buttery version of chapatis).
Bread and Easter Treats
Rob is the bread expert. He’s been with Cracking Good Food for all it’s six years and his bread courses are extremely popular. So much so that he runs ten a year. I suspect it’s not just his wonderful bread expertise that attracts the punters – Rob is a fantastic teacher – he’s dramatic and witty and brings the subject to life. And this session was bread with a twist: focaccia, hot cross buns and chelsea buns. In fact hot cross buns and chelsea buns are in essence pretty much the same and I can’t get enough of either of them.
What’s not to like about a chocolate truffle course? And this one I was attending rather than volunteering so even more fun than usual! Isobel from Dormouse Chocolates runs the only bean to bar chocolate making business in Manchester. She trained to be a chocolatier at Hotel du Chocolat before setting up her own company in 2014. It was a privilege to hear all about the chocolate making process at Dormouse where they use a stone grinder to grind raw coca beans. And making chocolate truffles with 70% Ecuadorian chocolate callets was a hoot! I have to confess to not fully taking on board all the different processes of what we were doing (I know we tempered the chocolate at some point) because I was too busy yapping to my new best friend on the course – Diane. And that is what I love about these courses – it’s the fascinating people that go on them. Cracking Good Food attracts interesting, broadminded clients – and they are a joy to work with. It was an entirely female group and it felt gloriously girly – especially decorating the truffles at the end with edible glitter and chopped nuts and cocoa.
Offal and Game
I was curious about this course, but I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of offal and game. However I knew I would like Iain Devine (@drunkenbutcher). He’s a bit of a legend on twitter and I’d heard a lot about his lively supper clubs. I wanted to meet this man! And Iain lived up to expectation – he was funny and fascinating and knew his cooking. And the food and offal was TASTY! Seriously – devilled kidneys on toast? Oh yes – melty and spicy. Pigeon on fondant potato? Succulent – great combo with the creamy potatos. Chicken liver pate? Rich and flavourful. I have been turned.
This was a long day. A 9am start and a 4.30pm finish. I was a little anxious that I’d run out of steam and want to go home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Neil Buttery – Mr Pastry himself – was a captivating teacher. The whole class hung on his every word! Neil whilst doing a PHD in Evolutionary Biolology (yes really!) started blogging about food history as a way of practising writing. This led to a lot of experimenting with game pies, sparking a passion for pastry and Neil hasn’t looked back since. He now runs the Buttery at the POD in Levenshulme – a restaurant specialising in pies. On the menu for the course: custard tarts, savoury pies and eccles cakes. So much buttery, crumbly goodness. Those 7.5 hours whizzed by.
On a cold saturday in January we headed out to Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury. The delightful and very knowledgeable Jesper Launder guided us through a very unpromising barren and soggy park. But it was very fruitful – we came back with a colourful variety of mushrooms and leafy greens. And my favourite bit (unsurprisingly) was the cook up at the end. We tipped our goodies out onto the wall of the park and Jesper cranked up the camping stove and magicked up some exquisite buttery, mushroom, leafy omlettes!
Lucky me! It really has been a journey in every sense.
I won’t lie, I usually wake up on a Saturday morning at 7am wondering why on earth I’ve signed up to a course! There’s usually a bit of cursing and grumpiness as I get myself ready for a 9am start.
But without fail when I come home in the afternoon I’m energised and excited and I’ve made some new friends!
Every single chef at cracking good food that I’ve met is passionate and inspiring.
If you’re interested to see the Courses Cracking Good Food have on offer – have a look: