What a fabulous way to spend a wet Saturday afternoon!
I turned up at the Waitrose Cookery School very early – so early in fact that the previous course on Knife Skills was still in progress. It did give me a chance to nose around a bit and see how the school was laid out.
The Waitrose Cookery School in Finchley, London is relatively new, having opened its doors in November 2010 and has been beautifully set up with state of the art equipment all laid out so that the ‘cookery’ part of the experience is really pleasant. There’s a large kitchen with around 15 stations each equipped with oven, fridge, colour coded chopping boards, knives and sink. And there’s a demonstration area at the front, where the Chef explains exactly what to do before sending you back to try for yourself!
Finally there’s a large dining area and a bar, shelves laden with cookery books and attractive displays of foodie things.
We started the afternoon with a glass of sparkling wine, Casillero del Diablo Brut Reserva Chardonnay, accompanied by platters of cold meats, cheeses, bread and olives. Then sat down to enjoy the wine tasting part of the day led by Ray O’Connor, ex Sommelier from Maze restaurant.
Although I was aware that Chile had a huge range of quality wines, I didn’t realise the variety offered by Casillero del Diablo, nor had I twigged that unlike French Wines, the majority of New World wines are single grape and are clearly labelled with the grape variety you are drinking. Ray was an excellent tutor, demonstrating to us how to ‘slurp’ professionally and demystifying some of the wine hype you hear, with justifications for things that ARE essential to enjoying your wines at their best (serving at the right temperature, ensuring the wine is aerated properly and most important of all, drinking what you enjoy!)
We worked through white wines and red wines. The last wine of all was my favourite…and also the most expensive bottle we drank, although still something that retails for around £10 – Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Syrah. If you like rich red wines, then do give this a try.
Then on to the cookery. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive. Cooking new recipes and eating three courses in a couple of hours could have been a bit challenging if badly planned.
Our menu was:-
Pan Fried Prawns on a Mango Salsa
Tomato Crusted Lamb Rack with baby vegetables
Baked Yoghurt with seasonal fruits (strawberries in our case)
Everything we made was lovely to look at and to eat. The menu was designed to work for two people but everything could be easily scaled up or down and, of course, all the ingredients are available at Waitrose;). I’ll post the recipes in the relevant section of the blog later on.
Nothing took too long to complete, despite ending up looking rather fine. There was a little ‘scheduling’ involved – we started the dessert first, then prepped the main course, then cooked the starter and ate it(!) while the main course carried on cooking then finished and ate the main course, then finished and ate the dessert. That also meant that we didn’t need to remember too much at any one time (no bad thing, since by then we’d had our wine tasting wines and more to drink with each course!
We also had some coaching in food and wine matching as we ate, by now up to speed with our own personal likes and dislikes as well as with the design of the food we were about to eat. Ray’s background as a professional sommelier did show through.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening so my thanks to Casillero del Diablo Wines for entertaining us in somewhere that was most definitely NOT the devil’s cellar!