I met James Campbell a chef with serious pastry provenance when I went to the Waitrose Summer event at their Cookery School in Finchley Road. Whilst I tasted my way through the Jubilee cakes, cookies and biscuits and sampled the new cheese wedding cakes, the Cookery School was showcasing its talent too. They were the first supermarket to open a cookery school back in November 2010. James Campbell (@dessertdoctor) was making a dessert from one of the ‘Art of Michelin’ courses and the results were impressive but could a mere mortal like me recreate it at home in a non-professional kitchen? We got chatting about the blog, social media and the courses on offer and he invited me along to the Michelin course as his guest.
The menu for the ‘Art of Michelin Spring’ includes scallop and prawn lasagne with tomato dressing, roast loin of lamb with Madeira sauce, braised shoulder ragout, braised peas and a pea puree. The dessert an inverted lemon tart, summer fruit salad and lemon yoghurt sorbet.
I’ve waited to write-up my experience because I wanted to at least attempt to recreate the dishes in my kitchen. From 1pm until 4pm one Sunday afternoon Mr and me chopped and prepared our ingredients and at 7pm we sat down to one of the best home cooked meals we have ever eaten. And, surprisingly not too far away from the dishes produced on the course. The first images you see of the finished dishes are the ones made in Finchley Road, the second are the ones that I made at home.
Back now to the course, it’s Saturday morning, bright and early, and for once engineering works do not hamper my journey into Finchley Road. The cookery school is at the rear of the John Barnes Waitrose and as soon as I’m buzzed in, I sign in, hang up my coat and put on an apron. I’m given a folder that has the course agenda, menu, some extra essential recipes, and we grab a freshly brewed coffee and warm Danish pastry while others arrive. We’re introduced to our teachers, who are James Campbell, Claire Lanza and Jon Jones and we’re given a safety briefing.
I’m paired with Sasha who is an advanced cook and was given the course as a present.
We both have the same kitchen ethics, we love clean work surfaces, tidy-as-we-go, methodical and precise, which makes for a smooth running kitchen. I tell her I’m writing a blog and she very kindly puts up with the camera flash, me dipping in and out of the cooking action and live tweeting with pictures and techniques using the hash tag #michelinspringmenu.
The cooking area is large, and separated into kitchens complete with cooker and hob, fridge and drawers full of utensils. Even better, there’s a metal washing up trolley, which is removed by the washing up fairy, making the cooking experience a lot more fun. We’re shown the process for each recipe in the cookery theatre and a mini camera on an extended arm shows close-up work.
The day kicks off with the technique for our lemon summer tart but this is after all the Michelin course and it’s not just any summer tart but an ‘inverted summer tart’. We haven’t got time to make the sable base or the sorbet – that’s done for us.
We do have to roll out and cut the sable pastry that we discover is a not that easy because the kitchen is so hot the butter keeps softening up. We spend the morning rolling and replacing the pastry in the fridge until we make at least four decent perfect circles.
The lemon tart recipe has simple ingredients, and is easy to make. Whipping cream, sugar and lemon juice and zest are heated to body temperature and that mixture poured into moulds and put into the oven for about 17 minutes until wobbly and set. The moulds are then put into the blast chiller or freezer and the puddings removed about an hour from serving and placed on their sable bases.
The summer fruit salad is a cinch in comparison; chopped rhubarb and raspberries steeped in icing sugar and vanilla. The tuille is fiddly but relatively simple, the sesame seed studded mix spread over a Teflon mat, cooked in the oven and removed for cutting and shaping. Again it’s a matter of working quickly before the mixture hardens but it’s easy to pop back in the oven to soften up again. The yoghurt sorbet had already been prepared.
Then it’s on to the scallop and prawn lasagne with tomato dressing. Jon takes on this demonstration and we’re shown how to make our own pasta. So much easier with a pasta machine but as I don’t have one and don’t want to buy one so I cheated at home. I bought fresh lasagne sheets and cut out 2 large circles from each, used what I needed and froze the leftovers. The scallops and prawns go into a steamer and the we’re shown how to make fresh mayonnaise.
A large batch was prepared for us all but when I made the dish at home I bought fresh mayonnaise from Waitrose in a small plastic tub. The pasta is boiled in salted water for about 3 minutes and then drained and the excess water blotted with kitchen paper. The steamed water from the shellfish should be kept because a few tablespoons are added to the mayonnaise to make a pouring sauce. Sit one round of pasta on the plate, using mayonnaise to ‘stick’ it firmly to the base. You then create layers with the seafood, the sauce and the tomato salad. The dish is completed with more sauce, and some pea tops.
Next we’re shown the main course elements from removing the ribs from the rack of lamb and preparing the loin to the ragout and Madeira jus. Peeling and dicing the Rosetta potatoes is probably the most fiddly as they are so small but the rest is pretty manageable.
The fire theatricals were handled by Sasha when she cooked off the Madeira for the jus, simply because I had to get a really good picture. We were a little disappointed with our jus consistency and felt we could have left it for longer to reduce and thicken.
We were shown a couple of extra recipes – the Italian method for raspberry and pistachio macaroons (which James made look so easy to make) which I won’t be recreating at home because I don’t have a decent mixer – he used a Kenwood and whilst I’m saving it could be some time until I manage to get enough to do this recipe justice.
The other recipe, a chilled asparagus veloute with truffled goat’s cheese and I’ll have a go at this because I have a blender. It is also a great tasting pre-dinner appetiser and pretty simple to make. The most time consuming would be skinning the broad beans of their tough skin.
Courses offered by the school are both half and full-days as well as shorter demonstrations and evening classes.
Whether you want to improve your basic proficiency levels or try your hand at a Michelin class, this state of the art school has something for everyone from beginners to those who are more accomplished.
If you think that £175 is a little of the steep side, fear not, as the chefs from the cookery school have written up their trade secrets in a hardback bible £25. ‘Love to Cook’ includes sections on simple suppers, entertaining at home, asian, vegetarian, meat, chicken, and baking. Step-by-step photographs show off the basics, and there’s even a lesson on knife skills and invaluable handy chefs’ tips.
I thought the course was excellent and I did quite a good job of recreating the dishes at home. I’m signing up for the Summer Michelin course and I’ll be tweeting from that too.
Waitrose Cookery School, Goldhurst Terrace entrance, (in the Waitrose building), 199 Finchley Road, London, NW3 6NN