A day at Manor Farm Cookery School in Branston, Leicestershire

As food and cookery programmes continue to spread across TV schedules, it’s possibly no surprise that more and more people want to get a bit of extra hands-on experience.

Throw in the likes of students looking to learn how to cater for themselves, active retired types wanting to indulge passions, and businesses looking for enjoyable team-building activities and the market for cookery schools is clear.

Great Food Club recommends a number of cookery school – here’s the full list. One of the latest to launch in Leicestershire is Manor Farm Cookery School in the village of Branston in achingly lovely Vale of Belvoir. It was founded by Diana Thompson, who had previously run a Montessori school on the site. Now though she’s fulfilled a lifelong dream and converted it into a superbly equipped cookery school that offers courses for up to 10, or demonstrations for up to 20.

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The school offers a mixture of one-day events run by both regular and guest tutors, a weekly “cookery club” running for five sessions, a five-day “getting ready for university” course, and a variety of corporate events. The one-day courses might vary from Christmas baking days to canapés or new ideas for dinner parties. “We just try to give people whatever they want,” says Diana. “If they come to us saying they’ve got an idea, we’ll do our best to make it happen.”

I joined in a seasonal cookery event in October that gave six of us a relaxing, entertaining and instructive day and a host of tips and ideas. It was run by tutor Rob Jessop, who has 28 years’ experience as a craft baker and was a senior chef and instructor at River Cottage until returning to the East Midlands.

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With patience and good humour, Rob guided us through a lovely autumnal three-course menu: pumpkin, chilli and wild mushroom soup; Spanish-style partridge with smokey chick-pea stew; and hazelnut meringue with mulled wine-spiced pears. In addition we knocked up some great ciambella-style bread with caraway seeds – by some distance the most successful loaf I’ve ever baked.

The author, Tim Burke

The author, Tim Burke

Rob’s approach is very much one of just starting with the recipe and letting you take it where you want. There’s plenty of technical help on offer but we’re encouraged to taste at every stage and develop the dish the way we want it. There’s relatively little formal instruction, and plenty of time to get hands-on, with Rob available at all times to give whatever level of support is needed by individuals in the group.

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The kitchen, which looks out over beautiful farmland, is smart, modern and everything you need is right at your station. It’s all made extremely easy for you. Having enjoyed our lunch with a glass of wine, we packed up our leftovers and returned home keen to show our families the results of our labours.

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With Christmas in mind, a day at school is a fabulous present for the foodie in your life. So why not have a look at all the schools in network and see which one might suit you – there are some cracking deals for GFC members too.

 

Tim Burke
The author:

Leicester-based Tim has been a journalist for 30 years, and over the last 12 years he has been restaurant critic for Metro, Great Food Club and the Leicester Mercury. He is also author of 2016 publication The Leicestershire and Rutland Cookbook.