Learn to cook in Essex
PUBLISHED: 15:54 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 15:54 23 January 2017
Learning to cook more creatively is becoming increasingly popular and there’s a multitude of professional courses on offer right here in Essex. Stephanie Mackentyre goes in search of the talented chefs sharing their skills with enthusiastic amateurs
The Mistley Kitchen
Sherri Singleton is the owner of both The Mistley Thorn and Luca Enoteca, an Italian restaurant, plus The Mistley Kitchen. ‘We have a great team of 60 staff and a very good management structure. I’ve been running restaurants in this area since 1989 and I really do love the restaurant side, but then I started doing cookery classes just before the birth of my daughter to wind down a bit. However, that side of the business just took off. We also now have a retail shop connected to the cookery school, so I enjoy finding interesting things to sell, and with the teaching I just like the whole creative side. I’m self-taught but having worked as a restaurant chef I teach people how to get very good results in their home kitchens using chefs’ tips. Our class sizes are no bigger than 12, so they are small, intimate and hands on.’
As well as their scheduled workshops, which include Flavours of Sicily with Ursula Ferrigno and, next month, Vegetarian Indian Cooking which Sherri teaches herself, they also offer corporate classes and private parties. Sherri also does regular children’s classes and puts on birthday parties too.
‘We just did a pasta making party for a 12 year old girl last week, which was a lot of fun,’ adds Sherri. Her most popular courses are her vegan cookery classes which book up well in advance. ‘I teach that one. I’m not vegetarian or vegan, but I am really interested in plant-based foods. Our gluten free and dairy free classes are also popular, and very fun to teach. All of the classes I offer are very personal to me, so I like to maintain a high level of quality.’
Sherri moved to the UK from Southern California and has loved living in Essex. ‘I wanted a Georgian building which overlooked the water and was within an hour of London. We lived in Manningtree first and now have settled in Mistley. It’s a beautiful place and has a real sense of community. My American friends can’t believe how lucky I am to live here.’
Jo’s Blue Aga
Jo Wheatley is Essex’s own celebrity baker found her baking school took off as a result of her winning the BBC’s Great British Bake Off in 2011. So what does she think about the show’s move to Channel 4.
‘I think it’s just moving, that’s all. It will be fine, so personally I don’t think it’s a huge problem. I think with Paul going to the new channel it will keep something familiar. I also think it could do with a bit of a shake up after all these years. Mel and Sue are fun and I think to replace them Sarah Millican would be great.’
Jo’s Blue Aga is Jo’s business and her classes take place at her home. She caters for adults although children can join in occasionally. ‘I do one children’s class a year because it’s held in my home. The first I did was for a celebrity actor, but I didn’t realise that until they arrived.’ Her adult classes are quite unique and very relaxed. ‘We start by having a tea or coffee sat in my conservatory and I have something ready I’ve baked for them to enjoy while they sit and get to know each other.’
Jo’s classes are good for any level of baker, from a beginner to someone who bakes every day. ‘It’s all about the enjoyment of baking,’ says Jo. The class bakes together in the morning, and then at lunchtime they all enjoy a two-course lunch which Jo has prepared. After lunch the pace is a little more gentle, with cake decorating and putting together the baked masterpieces.
‘One lady asked if she could move in she enjoyed it so much! For my cup cake class I take 12, but for my a drip cake classes it’s just 6 as it’s all down to oven constraints as I have an Aga and a normal oven.’ Jo also runs Demo Days where she demonstrates to a group for two hours. ‘Again it’s all very relaxed. I share lots of top tips and then we all have either lunch or afternoon tea together.’
Since launching her business she’s also produced two best-selling cookery books. ‘It just all happened because I was in the right place at the right time. To get on the show, I ticked a box online and got an email to say are you interested in appearing in the next series. I used to be really shy before I was on Bake Off. It’s been really great. The very first series I watched didn’t seem that daunting, so I entered. Maybe if I’d watched my year I might have thought twice, but I just imagined it would be fun!’
Braxted Park Cookery School
William Grinsted was one of the first chefs to embark upon the idea of hosting a cookery school at Braxted Park about seven years ago. ‘We originally started it in the commercial kitchen where we also do the weddings. Then we’d take the class over to the bridal cottage so that they could eat lunch together. Our idea was that if it went well, we’d build a school.’
The idea snowballed with corporate and retail clients coming to Braxted Park hungry for lessons from a wide variety of chefs and so a purpose built school was created. They offer a wide range of courses – the ones this month and next are already sold out. However, in April William hosts cooking for beginners and gastro pub inspired cooking in May. The school has had a change of management with Sharon Sonnex leaving to spend more time with her family.
‘We took over from Sharon in December; she’s been absolutely fantastic for the school. As we already run Black Jacket Events who manage many of the events here and I’m also the executive chef for the whole estate it made sense to take it over. Sharon’s leaving is a great loss to the school, but we hope we can follow in her footsteps.’ William plans to continue with the standard retail classes already offered, but this year he has plans to expand the group bookings side of the business.
‘We want to give groups more choices. If they want to take the school over for their own use, that’s fine. They don’t have to go with what courses we have on line. They can say I’d like a private lesson learning to cook X, Y or Z.’
There will be more family inspired events too, where a couple of families with their children can cook together. ‘We take groups from six to 12 ideally for our retail classes, however, for a private group you can book up to 20.’ This year too you’ll see all the chefs getting together for pop-up restaurants and evening classes, with generally more things going on. It’s going to be similar, but with the chefs involved in the management now, it gives us an opportunity to express ourselves more.’
Whether it’s a desire to be more flamboyant with your menu or simply looking more closely at what you eat, these schools could be the start of a whole new cooking experience for you in 2017.
The Mistley Kitchen
Jo’s Blue Aga
Click on Classes & Demos
The Cookery School
Braxted Park Estate