If you want a rigorous and punishing, chef-swearing from the kitchen, crying-over-the-onions cooking course, a day with Rosemary Shrager isn’t for you.
By Anna Behrmann
But if you prefer a more indulgent experience cooking lobsters and toasting your efforts with Chardonnay and polite conversation, then get along to her Kent cookery school.
Sometimes stern and formidable – especially if she sees you scrunching up the dough for the French bread, it was nevertheless a treat as one of a small group of 15, to have such close attention from her and an excellent team of chefs.
Our aim was to create a continental – and dare I say decadent – three-course meal – plate it beautifully and professionally, and then demolish it.
Firstly we made French bread (full disclosure I was late, and to put it bluntly, really not as good at cooking as the other participants.)
On my table, everyone was there for the fun and flavour, but they were also keen amateur cooks.
The first course was lobster, infused with orange and spices, the second quail-stuffed with chicken, with added port-soaked prunes, and there was a soft raspberry mousse for dessert.
Even the vegetables were a sweet treat – marinated in butter with a sprinkle of sugar.
My cooking partner sprinkled liberally, advocating abstinence for the rest of week.
We were swept through the day, with demonstrations from head chef Iain Moore, a Yorkshireman who added butter and cream to everything, but had interesting tips and insights – olive oil is apparently carcinogenic when it burns, and he advises seasoning with salt, because pepper overwhelms the flavour.
Iain took us through a detailed demonstration of how to crack open a lobster – apparently it depends whether you’re cracking the left or right claw.
I was slightly disappointed that when it came to cooking them, they were pre-peeled. But the order of the day was efficiency and clean white surfaces.
We made the meals ourselves, but we were heavily guided along so that we could all eat lunch together – arguably the most important part of the day.
Rosemary took proceedings very seriously and was distraught when the quails provided did not have legs – sadly not a la rustic francaise.
But the day was saved with her quick-thinking decision that we must sausage-wrap and poach the quail – before tenderly frying the meat.
The recipes were complex, but we were all provided with recipe lists to take home, and most people there wanted to invest in equipment.
My favourite part – and the only element for which I was singled out for praise – was learning to plate the dish.
Iain told us that we should take our time when nesting the lobster on a bed of carrots and softly soaked vegetables in orange and thyme.
We were to put each individual element on the plate separately, and allow ourselves to be creative.
It is apparently more aesthetic to cut the fish or meat in an uneven number of chunks and place it centrally, before lightly drizzling the sauce.
When we ate the fruits of our labour, Rosemary was an ever-magnanimous host, telling jokes and answering questions – and perhaps, most importantly, giving encouragement.
She even posed for photos with her cookbooks for fans of the BBC’s The Real Marigold Hotel, where she was sent to try out retirement in India.
The Rosemary Shrager French Classic day course cost £245.00. To attend Rosemary’s visit rosemaryshrager.com/the-cookery-school