In Review

Michelin-starred tuition at the Northcote Cookery School

Take your dinner parties to a new level with skills and recipes honed in an award-winning kitchen

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The chef no doubt means well when he tells us that his students boast a 100 per cent success rate for the final dish of the day - a tricky apple crumble souffle - but nevertheless, the reassurance serves to plant the nagging doubt that one of the six of us under his instruction might end the winning streak.

We're at Northcote, a Lancashire country house hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, and the man in the apron is Michael Vanheste, head tutor of the Northcote Cookery School.

He breaks us in with the relatively simple task of chopping coriander, or at least I think it will be simple until Michael diplomatically informs me I'm holding the knife incorrectly. I'm extending my index finger along the top, instead of folding it down flat against the side of the blade and using it to control the direction of the sharp edge.

The coriander will be mixed with lemongrass, chilli, soy sauce and treacle and used to cure a beautiful salmon fillet, which will be served with a fresh lime and ginger marshmallow. This is, after all, the Northcote at Home course, intended to furnish enthusiastic amateurs with the skills to replicate a little of what's on offer in the award-winning kitchen we can see through a glass wall.

We had sampled its work the previous evening, trying not to be intimidated by the rich baked potato and wild garlic soup, hearty barbecued monkfish and tender breast of Yorkshire duck with barley and beer.

Both restaurant and school are overseen by chef patron Nigel Haworth, a familiar face from the BBC's Great British Menu. He drops in the next day as we're getting stuck into a mushroom and spinach duxelle stuffing, presumably to make sure we're not disgracing the Northcote name.

Having received his seal of approval, we set about searing a chunky loin of lamb, then sit the duxelle on top of it and wrap the lot in parma ham and puff pastry, creating an upmarket lamb wellington. Then we're caramelising, de-glazing, reducing and seasoning away until we're left with a rich lamb sauce - or, since this is Michelin cooking, we should probably call it a jus.

We're on an intermediate course, but beginner and advanced sessions are also offered, as well as a five-day diploma programme. Half-day or full-day courses address bread and pastry-making, stocks and sauce-making, butchery and barbecuing.

Full day courses, such as Northcote at Home, include a two-course lunch with wine in the restaurant, tea and freshly baked scones served mid-afternoon and all the food we cook - an additional incentive to get it right. The cured salmon and trussed-up lamb are neatly packaged for us to take home, along with all of their sauces and garnishes.

Our last dish of the day, the infamous apple crumble souffle, will be too delicate to survive the journey, however, so we therefore sit with spoons at the ready, staring into the ovens as if we're on the Great British Bake Off, waiting to see if they will rise or flop. One by one, some slowly and some at surprising speed, they creep their way out of the ramekins and preserve Michael's perfect record. We dust them with icing sugar, dot a plate with pureed apple and dig in, relieved we haven't let the side down.

A one-night stay and full-day cookery school starts from £520 for two people. The five-course tasting menu in the restaurant is an additional £70 per person and paired wines are an extra £58.25 per person. To book, visit www.northcote.com

Virgin Trains serves Preston, Lancashire, which is on the London to Glasgow mainline. The journey from Euston takes just over two hours and standard-class tickets are available from £22 each way. First class tickets start at £42.

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