2015 is the year I master the kitchen. I got an Olive magazine subscription for Christmas, the kitchen is soon to be renovated and since every penny we have is pretty much going to go into said kitchen, it’s time to live up to the family name of being excellent cooks. It does not bode well that Husband expressed a great deal of alarm when I made this declaration, years of culinary experimentation on him have made him wary of my talents. But I’m trying. All those years spent watching Food TV have to pay off surely!
So when invited by VisitEngland to a cookery class with legendary Michelin starred chef John Campbell at the brand spanking new Woodpseen in the Berkshire Countryside, I was very excited. A professional kick start to my great cheffing creations of 2015.
A day trip to Newbury requires an early start, bleary eyed and clutching my large coffee, I make it on the train from Paddington but emerging into the fresh air and serene calm, the cobwebs are well and truly out of my system. Just look at that view, I defy anyone to still be sleepy looking out over the green.
Inside the olde worlde pub lies a surprise – an open, airy and stylish dining room but still warm and cosy, full glass windows designed to give you a view of the sweeping expanse of greenery beyond and on a day like this it’s all too easy to slip into a daydream of sipping a G&T basking in the Berkshire sunshine.
But work beckons – the cookery school lies just across the road and aprons donned, here to begin work on the ultimate Seasonal Dinner Party. Chef Campbell is a veritable fountain of information, this man knows everything! But all this knowledge is shared in such a friendly, chatty way that you barely register that you’re learning.
One thing that does stand out to me is how scientific cooking is. It certainly does not come across this way in the endless hours I spend watching reality food television (or my Mum when she’s effortlessly meandering around the kitchen), but there is a science behind what foods react at what temperatures and understanding that what you’re cooking with has a life of it’s own, whether it be animal or vegetable, is just step one to harmony in the kitchen. I think I expected that chefs just sort of magically threw things around in a pot and it all just came together beautifully. Admittedly yes, he makes it look a lot easier than the simplest tasks we’re doing, but we’re not shirking around here, this is cooking at the highest level.
Our menu for the day is:
Smoked Haddock Risotto, Crispy Hen Egg
Berkshire Venison, Cauliflower and Choucroute
Chocolate Fondant, Cherry Ice Cream
Before lunch, we’ve got a hit list of work to get through. Stocks, ice cream, coulis and make up the risotto we’re going to eat for lunch! So much work and effort goes into making the smallest portion of sauce, I have even more respect for the fantastic restaurants I’ve been to, now I understand why I can’t hope to easily replicate what they make me!
But the risotto is something I will definitely try, it’s one of those foods that’s a luxury to order in high-end Italian restaurants because they’re silky smooth poetry but we do a pretty good job if I do say so myself, this is sublime fishy creamed heaven!
After lunch we move on to mains, but with a twist to the plan. Chef Campbell has had a burst of inspiration and is teaching us how to make bread. This is the freshest, scrummiest bread I have ever had, I take it home still warm from the oven! My bread is pronounced ‘perfect’ and that’s been enough of a high to last me the month!
With the smells of bread baking away in the ovens – we finish up making our chocroute and learn how to whip up a truly gourmet potato fondant to serve with our melt in the mouth portion of venison! I didn’t think I had room to sample this dish, as I’m still pretty full from the risotto, but once this is plated up it’s entirely irresistible.
Sadly we didn’t have time to sample dessert, which is a real shame – check out what could have been below!
The Woodspeen is a pretty special place, to dine of course, but also to learn a little fraction of the tricks of John Campbell’s trade. And there’s an awful lot to learn.
Disclosure: I was a guest of VisitEngland and the Woodspeen. All opinions are, as always, my own.