The nights are drawing in and we are all on the lookout for indoor pursuits. Rain dampens our memories of long, hot summer days spent lazing in the park. We retreat to our sofas, where we are bombarded with discounted sofa and audacious perfume adverts in the run up to Christmas.
Time to get up and do something completely different. My boyfriend and I went along to the L’Atelier des Chefs cooking school on one cold November afternoon. They have two branches, one near Oxford Circus, the other in St Paul’s. We choose the Oxford Circus venue, and it was almost like stepping into the wardrobe in Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. What appeared like a simple, small shop front, held behind its doors a vast cookery school and shop. Its maze of rooms can hold up to 180 people for corporate cooking events. Our class was more intimate, as seven of us embarked on a masterclass in French cookery. We made crisp confit duck leg with salad paysanne and fried quail's egg to start, coq au vin for main, creme brulee for dessert and chocolate madeleines as a little something after.
We were lucky enough to be taught by executive chef, Steve Field. Hailing from New Zealand originally, Field brings a plethora of experience, from his classical French training to his years spent working on the Thai island of Koh Samui. The most useful thing I took from the class were the tips and techniques. Field gave a run through of how to prep all the ingredients for the three course meal we were to make. In doing so, he imparted his own expert knowledge and time saving devices. If you think you know how to chop an onion or the best way to separate an egg, you don’t until you have attended the class.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you will make everything yourself. The classes are very much a shared experience. The bench is laid out with all the raw ingredients and you all muck in together; one chopping thyme, the other browning chicken in a casserole dish. It makes for a very relaxed atmosphere. There is no pressure to come with any particular cookery experience, and you could take on as much or as little as you liked, though there was a little friendly competition when it came to cracking and frying the quail’s eggs for our starter.
And do you get to eat your efforts? The answer is, of course, yes. We sat down to eat each course at the neighbouring dining table as soon as it was ready, giving us all a chance to chat about our experience. Then it was back into the kitchen and on to the next course. Wine is available with your meal, paid for by the glass. The recipes you learn are all sent to you after class for you to attempt to recreate at home too. Truly an afternoon of indulgence and an immersive delight for any foodie.
‘Mastering French Cuisine’ class was priced at £72 per person for two hours.