With new cookery schools popping up almost daily in the UK it’s worth taking a few moments to make sure that you’re signing up for the best possible culinary experience. Nick Wyke, founder of the UK’s leading cookery schools directory www.lookingtocook, offers his six essential tips.
The word of a bona-fide foodie friend or colleague who has been on a course is hard to beat. Apart from that, the national papers intermittently do round-ups which invariably feature the same old suspects (despite the fact that there are hundreds of cookery schools out there, some of which are truly amazing), and local papers will write up a new school.
On the whole there are very few reviews of individual cookery schools available online. Well respected and highly-rated bloggers often file in-depth reviews of cookery schools and courses complete with a stream of photos which helps to give an idea of ambience and the quality of the kitchen and equipment. Just be aware that it is unlikely that the bloggers will have paid to take the course so do read between the lines – BritMums bloggers are good at being open about free trips. Alternatively try searching for mentions of the school on Twitter.
The cookery school’s website is – forgive the cliché – a window to its soul. Is it visually appealing? Does it convey its personality? Is it well organised and easy to navigate? Does it provide you with the information that you are seeking – quickly. If not, contact the school – this will enable you to clarify matters such as who will be hosting the course (what is their background and expertise? – avoid courses run by grumpy old catering school chefs like the plague); the level of experience required; maximum number of participants per class; will you have your own kitchen station and what is the balance between hands-on cookery and demonstrations.
Prices vary enormously at cookery schools from £30 to £250 and upwards for half and one-day courses. Check what is included in the cost beforehand. A shiny recipe folder and branded apron are all very well but do you really have need (and room) for them at home. Is lunch and wine included? Can you take home what you’ve cooked? Is your tutor really contactable after the course to run through any recipe issues?
5. Local food factor
Nearly all schools, like restaurants these days, declare their passion for using only the freshest, seasonal, locally-sourced produce on their courses. The best schools will stick to this vow and you should come away having cooked, tasted and discovered some genuinely fab food from just down the road. Chances are you’ll live within the area so mine the course leader for tips on where to buy the best local ingredients.
Look out for offers and last-minute deals on cookery school websites. Try to choose a cookery school because it meets many of your main criteria rather than because it’s offering 75% off on a national voucher scheme.
For concise reports on more than 125 of the best cookery schools in the UK and Ireland visit www.lookingtocook.co.uk.
–Nick Wyke, Looking To Cook
(Pic: Buttermilk Barn Cookery School in Petts Wood, Kent)