The Great Surrey Bake-Off at Abinger Cookery School
PUBLISHED: 15:39 18 September 2014 | UPDATED: 13:49 03 June 2015
Pete Gardner Photography
As a new cookery school in Abinger Hammer opens its doors, we sent along our very own Pete Gardner to pick up some tips on the Dude Food course. Here he reveals how he got on...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2014
I admit, I was rather excited at the thought of a Saturday at cookery school – this was certainly something different and, well, we men are a bit of a dab hand in the kitchen and now I was going to have the opportunity to prove it…
Opened in March of this year, the Abinger Cookery School was set up by local chef Lewis Davies in the former Abinger Arms pub, which had been empty since June 2012. Lewis, who has previous experience of hotel management, had been thinking about opening a cookery school for some time and when the redundant pub came on the market he decided to “go for it”. A major overhaul of the building duly followed, and with chef Vincent Clist, winner of The Times Chalet Chef of the Year, on board as the tutor, they were ready to open their doors.
One for the dudes
The school has a variety of courses on offer, such as Dinner Parties to Impress, Best of British and Seafood Secrets etc, and so what did the lovely editor of Surrey Life pack me off to get to grips with? Dude Food. Dude Food?
Okay, well, I might be somewhere around the mid-life crisis area, but hey, I like a bit of punk rock now and again, and I get away with a beanie hat (mainly while gardening…).
Anyway, a quick bit of homework on the ‘net revealed that dude food is actually a kind of American diner-style cuisine, relying on a comfort element of bold flavours and a hands-on approach to eating – think sticky ribs, yum buns, pulled pork and zingy slaws.
Now, probably the only other time I ever thought about learning to cook properly was when the girls at school went off to do ‘Domestic Science’ while we chaps headed for the woodwork room.
Oh, how things have changed. The Abinger Cookery School has been beautifully kitted out inside with everything you need to turn out fabulous dishes – each workstation has its own oven, five-ring hob, work surface and full range of utensils.
Under the guidance of Vincent, five of us, giggling like school kids, strapped on our aprons and prepared to do battle…
The first two lessons were learned very quickly: 1) If you need help from Vincent, then you yell “Chef!” (as in Michel Roux’s kitchen), and 2) my kitchen knives at home were hopelessly blunt.
Although sharp enough to shave stubble, these ones were still treated to a quick zap on the steel by Vincent who told us that the only time he has cut himself was when being photographed by a chap who asked him to chop up an onion as fast as he could.
Back in the classroom, we looked in horror at the set of menus waiting for us – 12 pages? How many days were we here for? Ah, lesson three – it really is like a real restaurant kitchen and you just get on with it; there is no slacking. The trick, I realised later, is that you start several things in succession so that everything comes together at the end – or that’s the theory anyway, but of course when you have food in an oven you need to keep your wits about you. I’ve heard it said that the human brain can only remember seven things at once – chefs must be a special breed then because at one point I swear we had the whole 12 pages of dishes on the go at the same time.
Anyway, on to the task in hand, and we kicked off with prepping the chuck steak for ‘cow pie’.
Yep; did you not realise Desperate Dan was the Dude of Dudes? All the ingredients were there waiting on our trays for us and after Vincent, sorry, Chef, had shown us what to do, we did our best to replicate it.
Now, here is the confession, and please don’t tell Vincent. I have never ever made pastry. It’s easy you see; every supermarket sells the stuff and all you do is roll it out – in fact, I have discovered you can even buy it ready-rolled – oh man! But not here, Dude! You get your fingers stuck in and rub the butter and flour and add water and – lo and behold – it actually works! One rolling pin later and I had my cow pie lid at the ready. Sadly no horns but the next best thing was provided by Chef – a huge section of bone with the marrow carefully removed to go in the centre of the dish like a huge cooling tower surrounded by a rich meaty filling.
While we were all fumbling around like lost hens, we suddenly realised Chef had already prepared the ‘pulled pork’ by lovingly caressing a huge joint of pork shoulder with brown sugar, cumin, smoked paprika, coriander and molasses to produce an incredible sight that went straight in the oven to cook long and slow.
There followed in quick succession a marinade for the lamb ribs, the dough for the yum buns, the gentle frying of tomatoes, garlic and cloves for the Boston Baked Beans in passata, and a demo of how to put together a really utterly delicious Kimchi Slaw – loads of fresh veg – with radish, Chinese cabbage, coriander and ginger in a wine vinegar dressing.
Now here’s an interesting thing – we actually got a break for lunch. Luckily, I hadn’t thought to pack my cheese sandwich and banana because, well, we dudes had made our own lunch, hadn’t we? Tucking into your own cow pie is so good – somehow made better by the fact it had all been put together by my own fair hands. I is right cool man…
Touch of Scotch
Next, it was onto the Scotch eggs. Soft boiled eggs were waiting and there was the sausage meat; so what’s there for us to do, Chef? Ah, the tricky bit… how do you wrap a sticky slab of sausage meat round a slippery boiled egg without leaving great holes in the side or dropping the thing on the floor?
Well, the key to it all is to be gentle… very, very gentle, and it is possible. Rolled in panko bread-crumbs and deep fried, they came out looking like something from the planet Zorg. But delicious. Very delicious.
No time though to dwell on our achievements – dessert was calling. The alcoholic element of the walnut and whisky tart was very appealing and now that I could make pastry, well, this was going to be easy! Bash the walnuts up, mix with whisky, treacle, cinnamon, eggs and bung into the pastry case. Into the oven. Done. All the pots and pans were magically whisked away for washing-up and, well, that was that.
We had to try our latest efforts but lunch seemed only a short while ago and here we were eating again. Thoughtfully, Chef handed round smart little take-away containers so that we could enjoy the fruits of our labours later on.
This place is not just a great way to learn cookery – it really is a lot of fun. Hectic but at the same time relaxing – and I learned how to make pastry, man! How wicked is that?
What we cooked…
Pulled pork & steamed yum buns
Boston Baked Beans
Walnut and whisky tart
Need to know:
The Abinger Cookery School, Guildford Road, Abinger Hammer RH5 6RZ. Tel: 01306 730470. Web: abingercookeryschool.com. Courses available from £135. B&B accommodation available.
5 other Surrey cookery schools…
Four Gables Food Academy
Ashley Court, Ashtead Woods Road, Ashtead KT21 2ET. Tel: 01372 275276.Web: fourgablesfoodacademy.com
Set in the stunning Surrey countryside, at the Four Gables Food Academy they pride themselves on creating seasonal food from their own Ashtead smallholding. At this time of year, on their Brilliant Barbecues course, they go alfresco and head off across the lawn to work some marinade magic.
Garam Masala Spice Kitchen
Offers cookery lessons at venues and homes across Surrey. Tel: 07801 966 581. Web: garam-masala.co.uk
Operating all over Surrey, this school will teach you how to create authentic Indian food and flavours in the comfort of your home. All you have to do is book a class, decide on the dishes and they do the rest. They’ve also produced their own cookery book, featuring a selection of the most popular Garam Masala Spice Kitchen dishes.
Squires Kitchen International School
The Grange, Hones Yard, Farnham GU9 8BB. Tel: 0845 6171812. Web: squires-school.co.uk
If you have a sweet tooth, then head to Squires Kitchen in Farnham. Located in a beautiful Georgian-style building, they teach everything from how to bake like a professional pâtissier to the art of sugar craft, including making the most exquisite sugar flowers, to mastering the medium of chocolate.
Surrey Hills Cookery School
The Field House, The Drive, Tyrrells Wood, Leatherhead KT22 8QJ and St Mary’s Cottage, The Ridgeway, Fetcham KT22 9AZ. Tel: 07979 502645. Web: surreyhillscookeryschool.co.uk
Located in the Surrey Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Surrey Hills Cookery School offers a wide range of courses from British baking, entertaining and healthy, low-fat cookery to men’s classes, courses for teenagers and student survival cookery days.
Woodham House, Carlton Road, Woking GU21 4HF. Tel: 01483 726957. Web: tantemarie.co.uk
The UK’s oldest independent cookery school, the renowned Tante Marie culinary academy will soon be embarking on an exciting new era, with a move to a new home in Woking town centre. As well as a new state-of-the-art cookery school, there will be a teaching restaurant with open-air seating running along Commercial Way.