John Whaite’s brand new cookery school is based in Wrightington, Lancashire. It’s in the countryside between Wigan and Chorley. John has refurbished the 400 year old barn that’s part of his mum’s house. And it’s beautiful – rustic, but modern.
I tipped up in my car at 9.45am and was welcomed personally by John who came out of the barn to greet me and invite me in. The day started with coffee and croissants and a little chat with the group I’d be baking with. There were ten of us.
Today we would be learning about rustic french cooking – and we’d be walking home with a tarte tatin, coffee eclairs and a savarin (a giant rum ba ba). It was all sounding good to me – apart from the awkward issue of transporting this stuff home. I was on a night out in Manchester afterwards. Oh well!
The day kicked off with savarin pastry and my first ever experience of a Kitchen Aid. Those things are cool! Savarin is a yeasted ring cake that we would be soaking in a rum based syrup and filling with cream and summer fruits. We beat our yeasty mixture together and left it to rise.
In honesty the rest of the lesson was a whirlwind of activity that’s kind of merged into one for me! The three bakes were approached simultaneously. As soon as we’d done a choux pastry for the eclairs, we’d be cutting out the puff pastry for tarte tatin, and when we’d done that we’d be creating the craquelin (a frozen rectangular of pastry to strengthen the eclair) and the next minute we’d be beating up a creme patisserie, then we’d be creating a caramel syrup for the apples in the tarte tatin.
It was a fast paced, intensive, hands on, educational day and BAGS of fun. John was a joy. He clearly adores sharing his passion and knowledge about cooking. His teaching style was relaxed, informative and incredibly playful – he loves entertaining a crowd. And I think getting ten pastry novices through three complicated dishes and keeping us all feeling chilled and competent is quite something!
It was quite surreal when at 3pm I had three fabulous pastries to my name! I wasn’t quite sure how I’d done it!
The day ended with us drinking prosecco and tucking into a delicious lunch prepared by John. And what a highlight that was. Getting to hang out al fresco on a beautifully sunny day stuffing our faces with delicious salads, quiche, cheeses and meats and a homemade onion fougasse bread. We definitely deserved a sit down after the frenetic day we’d had. It was also a great opportunity to chat with my fellow ‘chefs’. I think cooking together is quite a bonding experience, so we all felt at ease with each other at this point.
For me the day from beginning to end was a delight. John runs the classes with his bubbly sister Jane who slaved away over our washing up all day long. She was quite the dynamo! And John’s partner Paul was on hand all day to help with lunch, prosecco pouring and photography. It felt like a real family affair – and all three of them went out of their way to make us feel at home and fussed over. I feel like I learnt a lot, but actually most importantly I had a ball with a bunch of great people in a really beautiful location.
Here’s a link to John’s Cookery School – check it out!