Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What Makes a Really Good Cookery Course?

For me a course has to be hands on. 

I love going on cookery courses.  I get excited about each and every one, and yes you might ask why a qualified chef might say this, but in my experience you can always learn more.  I also really enjoy the social aspect of getting out of the house and meeting really interesting people and feeling that I have something new to try out on my family when I get home.

Working for BBC The Kitchen Garden show has meant that I’ve had the opportunity over the past few years to go to many cookery schools and have done many courses some of them good, some of them truly awful and several that were outstanding.

So as I’ve set up the Juniper and Rose Cookery School in Northampton I've been thinking about what makes a really good cookery course?

The starting point for me has to be price.  If it is too expense I just can’t afford it.  It’s that simple.

Then there is the question of numbers. All too often cookery courses are over oversubscribed.  I understand why, More people is more profit, but too many and it at the expense of the other students.  I remember one particular course in London that had 22 people there.  It was a nightmare.  I couldn’t see the demonstration and when I needed clarification on an instruction I had to wait twenty minutes before the tutor got to me.

I like to really learn stuff.  One particular course I recall being hugely frustrated that all the good bits I wanted to do and needed to learn were simply demonstrated.  I can look at a video on you tube if I want to simply watch someone doing it.  When I want to do a cookery course I want to be up to my elbows in whatever I am cooking, so I get to touch, feel, measure and learn.

I don’t want to sound like I am being fussy about things, but when I am on a cookery course I want to put things in a wider context.  Whilst I am learning with my hands I like to learn the way in which my food choices affects the world.  I like to know, for example, which fish as sustainable when I am doing a fish course, or where  I can buy flour milled from the nearest flour mill.  I loved that when I attended a course run by Dan Lepard at that were given artisan flour to take home and try.  It was generous and thoughtful.

For the sake of timing or cost of ingredients, or even perhaps as an attempt at getting more in I’ve been on courses where there is a communal theme.  Making different shapes with Danish pastry was one such course.  I got to make twenty of one particular shape and we all shared out the other five shapes.  Now I am truly really great at one Danish pastry shape only.

Cleanliness is rally important.  I know you are probably wide eyed that I have even mentioned this, however I have been to one cookery school where things were not quite as they should be.  Common areas must be clean for me.

Finally I like to be inspired to go home and start cooking.  I  want a course to influence the way I do things and even to motivate me.  It’s a tall order I know, but when I’ve spent a whole day and my hard earned money I want it to have an effect.  If you’ve been on a bread-making course and you don’t go home and make you own bread then what, if I may ask, was the point of that?

Every cookery school I've been to has had a different feel to it.  Some are intimate, some are friendly, others are intense.  Hopefully I've taken the very best aspects from all of them and added my own style. 

I’d love to know what else you think makes a really good course… .


  1. 100% agreed my lovely, I too have just started offering my (Afternoon Tea)Baking experience in the form of one to one or small baking lessons in people's own homes. The hands on stuff is so important, otherwise how will you learn? And I teach in their homes so that they aren't using whizzy equipment that makes your goodies perfect on the day, but you can't recreate once you get home. What you learn to do in your own home can then be perfectly recreated in your own home once I leave. I think it's so important to have this in a cookery lesson and yours look amazing my lovely, I will be booking up shortly! Miss Sue Flay xx

  2. Paul White aka

    Hi Vanessa,

    I run and teach bread making courses all over the country, I have just read your blog, to see it from the the other side is always helpful, thankyou x,

  3. Interesting post, thanks Vanessa. I've not been on many cookery courses. Time and money are both in short supply so I have to really be keen. I did attend a one-day cookery school last year and I wouldn't go back, it wasn't quite as in-depth as I was expecting, we were all there for different reasons. Many of the other participants were there for a fun day out, or something to do, whereas I really wanted to learn new techniques. The paperwork we got to take home was poor and the whole experience didn't draw me to go back. I want somewhere friendly, an experienced teacher, a class not too large in numbers, somewhere warm (!) and clean, plenty of equipment so we don't have to share or look around to find things, a really good lunch and other snacks and drinks during the day (not huge amounts, just good food), locally sourced produce if possible, good recipes to take away and other documentation, hints and tips, an evaluation form so I can give feedback. I'll be checking out your courses now, knowing you've put some thought into it :) Gwyneth aka Vintage Afternoon Teas

  4. Hi Vanessa. I have only been to one cookery class, that is macaron class with Edd Kimber and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. What I really like is that the class was small and it's very intimate. People can ask questions easily and it was hands-on. I heard about cooking classes where you just watch the demonstration and I don't think you can learn how to cook/bake just by watching and not doing it. It was a wonderful experience and since then, I have built more confidence in baking macarons at home. Still need more practise though :)

    When I am back in the UK, I am definitely booking a spot to one of your cooking classes!

  5. Lots of things to consider to be sure. I have been on a few cooking courses and yes the right balance of numbers and hands on work is so important. I must admit most I have been to have been exceptionally clean and some have had a washing up person to clear and clean as you go . And of course if it is too expensive you don't even go.

  6. I haven't been to enough courses to make such a judgement - however, I know that not being able to participate i.e. actually cook the food myself, makes me really frustrated.


If you are reading my blog I must warn you that I am not impartial. I want to influence you. I want to make you stop for just a moment and consider the effect of a lifetime of seemingly insignificant decisions and how making small delicious choices can change the world.

I believe that we can change the world one bite at a time.

It's a delicious revolution.